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Also by William K.

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The Grand Tour:A Traveler'sCuide to the Solar System (with illustrations EPIC CULTURAL COLLISIONS IN SIXTEENTH-CENTURY AMERICA
by Ron Miller)
Out of the Cradle: Exploring the Frontiers beyond Earth (with illustra- -c/v':r--
tions by Ron Miller and Pamela Lee)
Cycles of Fire:Stars, Galaxies, and the Wonder of Deep Space (with WiHiam K. Hartmann
illustrations by Ron Miller and Pamela Lee)
The History of Earth: An Illustrated Chronicle of an Evolving Planet
(with illustrations by Ron Miller)
In the Stream ofStars: The Soviet-American Space Art Book (edited with
Andrei Sokolov, Ron Miller, and Vitaly Myagkov)
Traveler'sCuide to Mars: The Mysterious Landscapes of the Red Planet

Mars Underground
Cities of Gold: A Novel of the Ancient and Modem Southwest

The Cosmic Joumey (last editions with Chris Impey)
The Cosmic Voyage (last editions with Chris Impey)
Moon and Planets


List of Illustrations . . . Vil

Friends of This Book . IX

Prologue: Simple Tales and Lost Truths ... 3

Chapter l. Cortés and the Gold of Mexico . 11

Chapter 2. Cortés Expands the Frontier.. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 57
Chapter 3. The Epic Journey of Cabeza de Vaca and Friends 94
Chapter 4. The New Viceroy Ponders the North . " 131
Chapter 5. The Case of the "Lying Monk" . 145
The University of Arizona Press Chapter 6. Marcos Races Back to Mexico City 196
Chapter 7. Cortés and the Viceroy Compete for "Country
© 2014 The Arizona Board of Regents Enough for Many Years of Conquest" . . . 214
Ali rights reserved. Published 2014
Chapter 8. To Cíbola by Land and Sea 222
Printed in the United States of America
19 18 17 16 15 14 6 5 4 3 2 1 Chapter 9. Entering the Seven Cities of Cíbola 257
Jacket designed by Leigh McDonald
Chapter 10. Meanwhile ... on the Colorado River, in Spain,
Jacket illustration by William K. Hartmann
and in Mexico City 285
Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data are available from the Library of
Congress. Chapter 11. Coronado Fights a War, Rcachcs Kansas, and
@> This paper meets the requirements of ANSI/NI SO Z39.48-l 992 (Permanence of Paper).
Returns to Mcxico . . ..... " 311
Chapter 12. Aftcrmath . 343

Aclditional Rcacli11gami Rcfcrc11<"<'S 355

lnclcx ... . 363


Figure l. The Plaza ofThree Cultures in central Mexico City 38

Figure 2. Canals and gardens of Xochimilco, Mexico City 63
Figure 3. Examples of copper bells commonly found in
borderland prehistoric sites 11O
Figure 4. House constructed of reed mats, northern Sonora 115
Figure 5. Confirmation of Sonorans' description of Cíbola 168
Figure 6. One of Marcos's "garden-like" valleys,
southern Arizona 186
Figure 7. Constructions along the Río Sonora 235
Figure 8. The Valle de Señora 241
Figure 9. Pueblo ruins in the "Chichilticale Province." 247
Figure 1O. The arrival of Coronado's army at Cíbola 260
Figure 11. Artifacts from the Coronado expedition 265
Figure 12. The San Gerónimo 11garrison in the Valle de Señora 299
Figure 13. What Melchior Díaz might have looked like with
his fateful lance 301
Figure 14. Thc Coronado campsitc al Hl.mco Canyon, Texas 323
Figure 15. Texas ranch roacl on lhc l .la110 li'.sla('aclo pluins
adjaccnt lo Blanco Ca11y<>11. . 326
vm • Illustratíons


Map l. Examples of Spanish explorations.. . . . . . . . .. . . .. . .. . . . . . .. . . . . 6

Friends of This Book
Map2. The world of Cortés 23
Map 3. The central section of Motezuma's Tenochtitlan,
ca. 1520 33
Map4. The transformation of central Tenochtitlan into
central Mexico City, ca. 1525-1550 62
Map 5. The northernmost frontier of Guzmán's slave raiding 89
Map 6. Final stages of the journey of the Cabeza de Vaca party 114
Map 7. Concepts of the North 135 Special thanks to Gayle Harrison Hartmann for her archaeological and edi-
Map 8. The first half of Marcos de Niza's journey to the North 154 torial expertise throughout the creation of this book. And to Elaine Owens
at the Planetary Science lnstitute for her expert help in collating my notes
Map 9. A crucial region in Marcos's journey, central Sonora 164 on references and resolving problems arising from conversions from one soft-
Map 10. Hypothetical reconstruction of the final parts of ware to another. This book wouldn't have been possible without their help!
Marcos de Niza's northward journey 181
Thanks to Allyson Carter and Scott De Herrera and the staff at the Univer-
Map 11. A portion of Domingo del Castillo's 1541 map of
sity of Arizona Press for their help and faith in this project, to Mary M. Hill
Mexico, prepared for Viceroy Mendoza 229
for tireless copyediting, and to Ron Beckwith for his talent and patient work
Map 12. Reconstructed middle portion of the Coronado in transforming my sketches into the maps published here. Thanks also to
expedition route 232 various friends and colleagues who offered support, assistance, discussions,
and/or enthusiasm, including, in alphabetical order, Agnieszka Baier, Dan
Map 13. The region of Coronado expedition activities in
Berman, Bill Broyles, Rick and Peggy Boyer, Don Burgess, Bill Doelle,
central New Mexico 280
Michael Engs, Richard Flint, Shirley Cushing Flint, Amy Hartmann Gor-
Map 14. Coronado's expedition to Quivira 321 don, Joe Gordon, Grace and Anna Gordon, Bill Harmsen, Nancy Marble
(Floyd County Historical Museum), Ron and Judith Miller, Paula Moskal,
Carlos Nagel, Michel Nallino, Elaine Owens, Cal Riley, Matt Schmader,
Paul Schwennesen, Carolyn Slaughter, Maria Elena Veliz, and Jannelle
Weakly (at the Arizona State Museum). 1 also thank Tucson's Mexican
restaurants, which (like París cafés) !et a writer hang out and pursue a
project: Casa Molina (both the one on Campbell Avenue, with a beautiful
mural of Cortés's arrival in 'Icnochtilun 1 Mcxico City], and the one on
Speedway Boulevard, with its lovcly palio), (,a Indita, Cuillermo's LL, and
Guadalajara Crill, whcrc staffcrs lley11a,Ann.uulo, ami othcrs encouraged
me during early work 011 this hook rvru lhrn1gli 1 was Ihc cccentric guy
with thc laptop in thc hack room.
Simple Tales and Lost Truths

As I grew up in Pennsylvania, we learned stories of the heroes of early Amer-

ican exploration: Christopher Columbus, as he was known to us, followed
by Henry Hudson, the pilgrims, and Daniel Boone in the wilderness. When
I moved to Arizona as a graduate student, I began to discover a different
country. Here, the first explorations unfolded from south to north, several
generations befare the pilgrims stepped ashore. This history was full oflost
civilizations, golden empires, astounding feats, foolhardy courage, idealistic
dreams, and self-righteous moral hubris. Here was the epochal first meeting
in human history between "high civilizations" of the western hemispheric
half and the eastern hemispheric half ofhumanity-the two halves that had
spread around the world for one hundred thousand years, in two directions,
and finally confronted each other militarily and culturally in Mexico in
1519. Here were collisions oflegal/religious systems, often used as justifica-
tion to depose rulers, enslave peoples, and occupy lands ... under the guise
of progress. Fascinatingly, written eyewitness accounts exist, not only from
the European side, but also in sorne cases from the Native American side.
These tales, with their larger-than-life adventures and Shakespearean
characters, were mostly left out of the story of our country that was told as
1grew up around 1950. Columbus thc ltalian surely sailed the ocean blue
in 1492, but we absorbed a zcitgcist that Amcrica was colonized mainly
by England. Cortés, "Montezuma," uud Coronado wcre part of some dis-
tant alíen history, somehow dcluchcd f ro111"real" American history. The
idea that Icclandic Vikings had la11<lt·di11A1111·rit'a uround A.O. 1000 was
considered a tal 1tale. 'lhc discovcry of tllt' kt' la11dit'sd tlc111c11t
at 1,'Anse
aux Mcadows in Ncwfouncllund did 111111·11111t• 1111til1%0.111a 1940s pírate
4 • Prologue Simple Tales and Lost Truths • 5

movie, The Sea Hawk (showing when I was a kid), the English heroes are journey to the Seven Cities in 1540 usually appear in different books. Each
dashing Errol Flynn and his jolly crew, and the key villain is a Spaniard tale has been sculpted into a distinct lithic monument, like the statue of
played by a wonderfully smarmy and dandified Claude Rains. a hero in a town square. The fact is that they are intimately tied together,
Alwaysthe problem exists that popular histories are distilled, refined, and and Cortés was a player in the whole three-decade drama. Cortés ended up
simplified-mythologized so as to be more instructive. George Washington as the main competitor to Coronado in the conquest of the Seven Cities
could not tell a lie. Such distilled histories can be duller than reality. As of Cíbola in the 1530s. Hugh Thornas's 1995, 807-page book on Cortés
North Americans, Central Americans, and South Americans, we need to relega tes his adventures after 1524 to a 13-page epilogue, but, in fact, the
reboot and go back to the original records. initial exploration of the American Southwest was a pivota! race between
What I've tried to do here is tell the story in terms of real human beings, Cortés and Coronado.
both Native Americans and Europeans, who faced challenges and had To describe many of the events of the present book, I compared various
amazing adventures and left us many personal accounts, sorne more reli- documents in both old and new translations. Sometimes I encountered
able than others. My intent is to emphasize human stories (both triumphs cases where translators of individual documents based interpretations of
and tragedies) and the way in which all of us are subject to the political/ whole journeys on "their" particular document without making interesting
economic/religio-philosophic paradigms handed clownto us at our mother's linkages to other eyewitness accounts, as 1 have attempted to do. Clear
knee by the cultures we live in. examples exist in the scholarly literature where early researchers relied too
Take the astounding conquest of Mexico by a handful of Spanish adven- much on a single translation, a mistranslation, or a literal, nonidiomatic
turers. According to the myth, the Aztec king, commonly known as "Mon- meaning of a single word and consequently misinterpreted the larger pie-
tezuma," was an incompetent, vacillating fool. But eyewitness accounts ture. 1 reproduce numbers of statements from centuries ago, but I don't
from both the Spanish and Aztec sides portray a more complex and subtle claim to be a translator of sixteenth-century handwritten Spanish; thus,
man who agonized about the meaning of bearded strangers landing on his when specific word order is important, I quote the best translations. In other
eastern shores. Since childhood, he'd heard the legends that a bearded god cases, as indicated in the text, 1paraphrase or abridge and give a "composite
named Quetzalcoatl might someday return from the east. translation" based on severa! different translations.
Or take Coronado's famous expedition that went all the way to Kansas Just as there is a Heisenberg uncertainty principie that applies to elec-
in 1540-42. According to the story, he was duped into marching north out trons, there is a "Heisenberg uncertainty" that applies to words. The closer
of Mexico by false stories of gold spread by Father Marcos de Niza, "the you try to look atan electron ora word in its original context, the more you
lying monk," who proclaimed the news of the Seven Cities of Gold, where are aware that it comes with a degree of fuzziness. The more you try to act
riches could be found on every doorstep. Marcos's still-existing notarized as if words have only one precise meaning, the less you will understand
report, however, says nothing about gold in the Seven Cities! people and their actions. To take an example that will come up later, when
To anyone interested in how history is made, all real characters are the priest Marcos de Niza said he "saw" that the Sonoran coast turned
more interesting than those portrayed by grade-school myths. The stories west, most early translators took his statement literally and pointed out
need desimplification in order to revea! the excitement and pathos of the that it seemed geographically impossible, and they accused him oflying. I
period. History books talk about battles and dates and travels and destina- suggest, and other scholars have agreed, that he meant it in the idiomatic
tions, but who were the men and women themselves? It's easy to talk about sense: he "saw that it was true" after conducting interviews. (Aswe'll see in
deeds and/or piously assign Monday morning blame, but can we grasp the chapter 5, he may even have chosen the phrase to be deliberately ambig-
sheer physicality and incredible feats of courage on all sides? Can we feel uous.) My goal here is to place side by side as many eyewitness sources as
a human connection with these ancestors of ours who knew so much less possible and then try the synthesis with the least number of inconsistencies.
about the nature of the world than we do but walked in the burning sun Ouí: modern instant access to information tempts young or poorly
and slept through terrifying nights? educated readers and would-be scholars to accept various web-posted
In this book, 1weave together sorne historie threads that have rarely been errors, speculations, and even outrageous supernaturalisms as known fact.
conncctcd. Cortés's conquest of Mexico City around 1520 ancl Coronado's For that rcason, I'vc tricd to integrate into this text as many references to
Simple Tales and Lost Truths • 7

fundamental research as possible. Following the University of Arizona Press

style, the year and page of the reference are listed, far example, as 1939, 66.
V> Sometimes if the year is already mentioned in the text, the page is listed
o separately, simply as (66). They are given in the "Additional Reading and
;e References" list at the end of the book. Sorne of the older books, such
V as Bernal Díaz del Castillo's eyewitness account of Cortés's takeover of
::; Mexico City, and Cabeza de Vaca's account of his journey across North
America, are still thrilling reads .
At the same time 1 hope to show that scholarly research is not stuffy
i:: library work. As 1 present in sorne of the sidebars, wonderful adventures
~ are to be had while tracking clown and then finding the now-deserted site
•... of sorne ancient battle or camping under the stars in a lonely spot where
your ancient "friends" camped centuries ago.
"'5 There is something else intriguing in this research: the research becomes
1:l a strange dialogue among fascinating characters from various centuries. lt
E really is a dialogue, because you read what someone said in 1542, and
8 then you say, "But that can't be right ... " and you scramble to read the
e, report of a historian who visited the site in 1895, and then you rush back
,._,,¿ to see what one of the other eyewitnesses said in 1540. Then you add your
o new realization, your tiny bit, and someone else may take it up thirty years
later. Many original letters and chronicles of the participants are available
.5 from the l500s, and "waves" of historians have become interested in them .
""2 One wave carne as Anglo-Americans discovered the West's Spanish roots
•... in the late l800s, and another wave carne in the l930s and l940s on the
V faur-hundredth anniversary of the Coronado expedition. You find yourself
¡:: debating against these long-departed colleagues with respect and affection
·E far them! In a fast-paced world that cares only about the newest version of
'"•...o "now," it's strangely gratifying to be involved in something that has a longer
~V timescale and perhaps even a certain long-term importance to unknown
..eV> future colleagues and readers.
·a In Cortés/Coronado research, there is a problem about dates. In the
'"o.. ..e.
4-1 -~ l500s European astronomers realized that predicted positions of the sun,
o ~
V>~ relative to the stars, were in error, and the calendar dates of equinoxes and
~ ~
e, i:o solstices had shifted by ten days since ancient times. The first blossoms
~ i:: of spring, far exarnple, were shifting measurably relative to the calendar
w o:::o
date. The shift was because the old "[ulian" calendar, in effect since Julius

J;l.. e, Caesar, had assumed that the year is 365.25 days long, whereas more
1:j '"
~~ precise measurements show that it is about eleven minutes longer. The
error noted in thc l 500s was ten days and growing. The Christian Church
beca me involvcd, partly hccausc its schnlars wcre sorne of the best educated
8 • Prologue Simple Tales and Lost Truths • 9

in such matters, and partly because the date of Easter was tied to the spring mariners, discovering the Colorado River, attributed one of their obser-
equinox and was thus "migrating" through the year instead of sticking to its vations to the curvature of the Earth. Various Greek scholars (who were
originally proposed season. After various conferences of astronomers, Pope rediscovered in the l 400s after the so-called Dark Ages) had created globes
Gregory XIII decreed in 1582 that an improved calendar should be used of the Earth, mapped different clima te zones at different latitudes, realized
and a ten-day correction should be made to keep the seasons matched to the 1110011 was also spherical, estimated the relative distances of the moon
the calendar. Thus, in the European world, Thursday, 4 October 1582, and sun, and measured the approximate circumference and diameter of
was declared to be the last day of use of the Julian calendar, and the next our planet by 200 B.C.
day was decreed to be not Friday, 5 October, but Friday, 15 October 1582. Columbus knew of sorne of the old measurements of Earth's size, but
Since then, the new "Gregorian" calendar has been adopted (with various he favored too small a value for Earth's circumference and hence under-
grumblings) virtually worldwide. estimated the distance he'd have to go across the Atlantic to reach China.
Our heroes and villains in this book, in the early to mid-l 500s, recorded Irony abounded. Had Columbus known the true distance, he might not
their dates by the Julian calendar, but their 1 June, for example, would have dared to sail. Sure enough, when he hit islands at about the right dis-
actually correspond to the temperatures and weather patterns that we expe- tance, he mistook the island of Cuba for the province of Mangi in China,
rience on 11 June in our calendar. This problem can produce wonderful discussed earlier by the Italian geographer/cosmographer Paulo Toscanelli.
confusion. For example, Coronado scholar Richard Flint noted in 2003 During nearly six months in the Bahamas and Caribbean islands in the
that many dates given by the most detailed chronicler of the Coronado l 490s, Columbus acquired bits of gold jewelry. Expectations began to
expedition, Pedro de Castañeda Nájera, seem out of sync with dates given build that more gold would soon be found farther west. Till his dying day,
by others. He probably wrote in the early l 560s, but the oldest known Columbus thought he had discovered islands off China.
surviving copy of Castañeda's book postdates 1582, and Flint suggests that a The generation of Spaniards in this book thus colonized Caribbean
post-1582 copyist dutifully "corrected" Castañeda's Julian dates to the new islands without knowing whether they were a few days' voyage off the coast
Gregorian calendar. In this book, I've tried to follow the most common of Cathay, where Marco Polo, in the l 200s, had reported a fabulous empire
tradition in most studies of Cortés and Coronado, which is to quote the date of gold and spice. Marco Polo said the palace of the Great Kahn in Cathay
they recorded in their writings (the Julian date), rather than trying to correct housed a treasure of gold, silver, pearls, and other jewels. Geographer Tos-
everything by ten days. To reduce possible errors, however, I occasionally canelli wrote to King Alfonso V of Portugal in 1474, referring to the temples
mention that a Julian date is involved or cite just the month of events. and palaces of Japan as "roofed with massy gold."
There is a similar issue about distances. It's easy today to measure air line Excursions around the Caribbean soon revealed extended coastlines and
distances on maps, but our characters had to travel on the ground. Thus it's a huge southern landmass whose shore was mapped by the Italian navi-
more meaningful to estimate trail miles, which are 1O percent to 30 percent gator Amerigo Vespucci. In a popular 1507 book the German mapmaker
longer than air line distances, depending on terrain and winding roads. I try Martín Waldseemüller described Vespucci's discoveries, and he inscribed
to distinguish between the two, roughly estimating trail miles from terrain Amerigo's first name across what turned out to be the South American
or distances along old roads. Worse yet, the Spanish recorded distances in continent. To most adventurers in our book, however, it was still known as
leagues, and, as discussed in the text, the league itselfhad a range of around the Indies. The natives were, reasonably enough, known as Indie-ans. The
20 percent in possible values, which I try to take into account. So there is a word "Indian" has come to be tarnished, but 1use it occasionally with that
"Heisenberg uncertainty principie" applying to distances as well as words. sensible original geographic intent-inhabitants of a place that had been
Our story needs sorne introduction. named the "Indies."
As schoolchildren know, Cristóbal Colón, sailing under the flag of Isa- Why were the earliest Spaniards of the l 500s fixated on gold instead of
bella I and Ferdinand V, a generation before Cortés and Coronado, found seeking farmland for rich haciendas or longer-term English-style colonies?
islands sixty-eight days' voyage across the Atlantic from Spain. Contrary Easily transportable wealth, like gold, would allow the explorer/speculator
to modern myth, the world was not regarded as flat in those days, at least quickly to pay off the investors who financed the quest. Even in the l 500s,
not by scholars. In chaptcr 7 1point out a case in 1540 in which Spanish capitalism was grcat for cxploiting resources ancl developing short-term
1O • Prologue

prosperity but less adept at creating the sustainable infrastructure needed

to stabilize a civilization.
The first great American gold rush carne in 1512, in Cuba, where placer CHAPTER ONE
deposits yielded a very brief bonanza. Meanwhile, between 1502 and 1513,
sailors passing beyond the west end of Cuba sighted the Mexican coast
at various times, in particular Yucatán. In 1513 Ponce de León landed
briefly on the Yucatán coast, returning from his fruitless search far a mythic
Cortés and the Gold of Mexico
fauntain of youth in Florida. (The concept is ridiculed today, yet we spend
millions trying to restore youth with cosmetics, drugs, surgeries .... )
Yucatán attracted more exploration. In 1517 a Spaniard named Hernández
de Córdoba sailed along the east coast on a slave-raiding expedition, and
he was fallowed in 1518 by a captain named Juan de Grijalva. Who would
be next to explore the new land of Yucatán?

One <layin 1506, young Hernán Cortés stepped off a boat onto a dock in
Cuba. It was his first faotstep in the New World. He was twenty-two years
old, keen to seek fame and fartune.
Cortés had been born in central Spain around 1484. During Cristóbal
Colón's faur voyages of discovery, Cortés was a youth, growing from eight
to eighteen years old. He must have been like a hoy growing up in America
during the l 960s, the age of astronauts, fallowing the news of otherworldly
exploration with growing excitement. Colón had discovered islands thought
to be off the coast of China or India-the Indies.
Cortés's extended family included minor Spanish nobles, but that was no
guarantee of wealth or respect, beca use the land was in ferment. The coun-
try had been invaded many generations befare by "Moors" -Islamic Arabs
from Morocco. Spanish Christian, Jewish, and Moorish Islamic cultures
were still colliding in Spain, although the Spanish Christians were push-
ing the Moors out of Granada around the time of Colón's early voyages.
Residual skirmishing continued in Spain and North Africa in the l 500s.
At about age twelve Cortés left home to live with an aunt and uncle in
the cosmopolitan city of Salamanca. There he fallowed in his grandfather's
faotsteps and began to study law, an experience that shaped his handling
of many of his escapades in later life.
Cortés liked Latín and gambling. According to the authoritative 1995
biography by historian Hugh Thomas, he <lid not complete a fu]] law
degrec, but he clic!obtain a worldly understancling of how things worked

12 • Chapter 1 Cortés and the Gold of Mexico • 13

under the dominant Spanish and Euro-Catholic culture. In this political that resistance by Native Americans was blithely labeled "rebellion" or
system, the pope in Rome had supreme spiritual/philosophical authority, "treason." This heavy-handed approach sparked outrage among many of
but the various kings of Europe, armed with divine right and byzantine the Catholic priests on the scene.
court procedures, exercised local civil authority. Renaissance humanism The most important voice on behalf of the indigenous Americans was
was beginning to illuminate, or even compete with, traditional Christian- that of Bartolomé de Las Casas (1474-1566), whose father had been on
ity. Practica! empiricism would soon challenge blind medieval appeals to Colón's second voyage to America in 1493. Bartolomé, at age twenty-four,
ancient authority figures. Churchmen and philosophers, to their credit, went with bis father on Colón's 1498 voyage to America and in 1502
were beginning to debate the nature of the inhabitants of the newly discov- became the manager of the family's land grants on the island of Española
ered lndies- "Indie-ans." Were they full-fledged human beings with souls, (later Hispaniola). He was known as a very capable young man. Soon he
or did they belong to sorne lesser order, without rights? recoiled in disgust at the enslavement and extermination of the native pop-
In the operative European paradigm of Cortés's day, Earth was thus ulations. In 151O he became the first priest ordained in the New World.
immovably fixed at the center of the entire universe, created by God in He became one of the first American historians and an archenemy of the
seven days as the home for mankind. Christianity was the one true religion. conquistador mentality. He wrote several books encouraging better treat-
Europe's Judeo-Christian cultural/economic system was God's gift to the ment of the lndie-ans. Las Casas's opponents countered that many native
world. Copemicus and Galileo did not move Earth out of its unique posi- inhabitants were barely clothed and cited Aristotle's argument that certain
tion until a few generations later. people were destined by their very nature to be slaves.
The king of Spain after 1516 was Carlos 1 (or Charles 1), but in 1519 To Cortés's credit, he reportedly oversaw the establishment of the first
he acquired a new name. He was elected to be Carlos V, king of the Holy hospital and foundry in Cuba. After eight years, he had accumulated sorne
Roman Empire, a loose confederation of Christian countries that domi- wealth, built a hacienda, fathered a daughter with a native Cuban woman,
nated European politics from AD. 800 until 1806. It was a precursor of and become a secretary to the govemor of Cuba. Ayear or so later, he met
the European Union. Cortés and Spanish explorers of the l 500s were thus Catalina, a young Spanish woman with more or less noble connections.
imbued with the idea that theirs was a special role, spreading civilization A tempestuous courtship ensued, during which Cortés was briefly thrown
and Holy Christianity around the newly discovered pagan world. Sorne in jail by the govemor for seduction and breach of promise. In the style of
religious orders of the day were convinced that once the pagans had been a comic opera, all was saved when he married Catalina in 1516. As we'll
converted to Christianity, Christ would reappear, and the kingdom of God see, bis marriage was to have a strange fate six years later in a house in the
would be established on Earth. conquered Aztec capital, now Mexico City.
From records of the time, we can piece together a description of Cortés,
the man, during those years just before he left for Mexico. He was about
Cortés, the Man in His Twenties: ca. 1510 five feet four inches tall, in his early thirties, with a broad chest, a slim
build, and a pale face. He had longish, red-brown hair and a thin beard of
During his student years, Cortés picked up sorne favorite sayings, especially the same color. He hada striking ability to come up with a clever phrase or
from plays and from volumes of Erasmus. At the top of his list: "Fortune rationale that would convince men around him. He could be both impetu-
favors the bold." Moved by such a sentiment, he decided to seek his own ous and prudent at the same time. After brief reflection, he'd take stunning
fortune in the lndies. His style was to calculate his probabilities, then gam- action. He was attractive to women. He supported the church, good works,
ble on chance. For a while, it worked. and the dominant paradigm. He could get jobs done.
Arriving in the Spanish territory of Cuba, he ingratiated himself with In 1518 the govemor of Cuba selected Cortés to be the leader of a new
the govemor's circle. As a minor functionary, he pursued several searches expedition to explore the coast of Yucatán. Spaniards of the time had no
for gold, and he witnessed the decimation of the local native population, concept of the size of North America, and most mariners assumed Yucatán
forced into labor for the Spaniards, and the execution of chiefs for resisting was just one more island of the Inclies. Somcwhere beyond, to the west and
Spanish rule. So convinced were the Spaniards of thcir right to couquest north, lay thc cousl of Marco Polo's Cnthay.
14 Chapter l Cortés arul the Cold uf Mexicu 15

Off to Yucatán: 1518 lover but also his trustecl assistant and chieítranslator. During baptisrn, she
was given thc name Marina, but she is also referrecl to in early manuscripts
The Cuhan governor could ncver have irnagined what he had set in ancl in Mexico today as Malinche or La Malinche, which was probably a
motion. 'fo hirn, the Yucatán foray was no more than a fact-finding trip to Spanish corruption of some term in the Nahuatl language of thc Aztecs.
clarify coastal inforrnation from earlier mariners. But to Cortés, it was a The exact sense of this name Malinche is obscure, as it was apparently
chance to explore unknown Iands and ali they might offer in terms of his occasionally appliecl to Cortés hirnself, perhaps allucling sarcastically to
own reputation hack in Spain. lle threw himself into the ncw adventure. thcir extraordinary relationship.
Impetuous lmt still calculating, he began running up lrnge expenses to out- Marina, with onc foot in America ancl another in the Spanish carnp, is
fit the expeclition ancl hegan dressing in the fine clothes of a grand leader. one of the most intriguing figures of North American h istory. Docurnen-
'I'he governor soon had seconcl thoughts abour his appointment ancl tary eviclence about her is scarce, although linguist Auna Lanyon, after
hegan rnaneuvering to oust Cortés from the joh. Sensing clanger, Cortés searching for el u es in the scanty recorcls, pub] ishecl a fascinating biography
made one of his classic Aam boyant clecisions. Suelden ly he lcft home and of La Malinche in 1999. We have a poignant description of her from eme
wite, hoardecl his ships, and preparecl to set sail at once instead of waiting of Cortés's soldiers, a mernoirist namecl Berna! Díaz del Castillo (see sicle-
for the announced date. Hearing of this move, the governor raced to the bar). Díaz talkecl with her ancl paints a portrait in many phrascs scatterecl
dock the next rnorning in time to ask what was going on. Cortés callee! back throughout his extraorclinary hook.
from a srnall boat, saying that he hacl thought about this for sorne time, ancl
then - in a typical gestme- he mimicked cooperation aud clisingenuously [She was thc daughter of a great chieftain and mistress of slavcs, as

asked for the governor's final orders. Flabbergasted, the govcrnor gave no her appearance clearly showed ... ofgoocl appearance, intclligent, and
response. Cortés hoarclecl his sh ip ancl sailccl away. It was Novembcr 1518. poisecl. (Dfaz [ca. 157011956, 55)

[She was a perscm who] kncw well how to intcrprct. (86)

Cortés Lands in Mexico: Early 1519

After severa] Caribbcan stops, Cortés lancled near Cozumel, on the coast of
Yucatán, in early 1519. By this time he hacl nine ships ancl four or five hun-
clrcd men. As he pushed wcstward along the coast (see rnap 2), he found
well-clothcd Maya villagers with small pyramidal temples ancl "books"
consisting of manuscripts with painted illustrations. He made friencls and
preachecl about Christianity. In another of his bol elacts, he orclerecl his men
to remove statues of local cleities from the pagan temples, replacing them
with statues of thc Virgin Mary, apparcntly draped with native wornen's
ga rm en ts.
The astonishecl townspeople seemecl to accept their guests' behavior.
At one point, they hrought a "gift" (as the Spaniarcls recorclecl it) of twenty from the two sidas. Díaz,of
young wornen. Cortés insistecl they be properly baptized before being authority of Cortés,the king, and the church, while
assignecl as companions to various officcrs. ception of the barbarity of the Europeans. Memoirists from both
i\mong thc worncu w.ix ;111 :11lr;l('live :11HI i1llclligc11t vorn1g woman full of wonder about what they had experienced to waste time on rnade-uptales.
whosc p.rrcul-, wcrc or!JC'i:1l.s or
;J 1w;1rJJ1 lrn111 ;11HJ 11Jio 11;1s rcg;irdccJ ;i.s Díaz lived perhaps past age ninety without seeing his book published or
;! IH'l\()JI ni rn1·;il dn<Tlll Slll' 1\.1\ 111111:111\
llw ( rn11p;11111n1or knowing it would still be in print more than tour hundrad years later.
;111ollw1 S1i:1111:11d111l] « <'\ll<'<lil11111. l111I.,¡1< '""11 I"" .1111<11111
"1111 ( :"1i<'s's
16 • Chapter 1 Cortés and the Gold of Mexíco • 17

[She was endowed with) such manly courage that she never allowed us The Viewfrom Tenochtitlan: 1518
to see any sign of weakness, although she heard daily how we were ali
going to be killed. (11O) In distant Tenochtitlan, * the fabulous capital of the Mexica-Mexico
[She was a helper) after battles when we were ali wounded and sick. City-emperor Motezuma was restless. He had a good communication
network throughout the region, and for severa! years his emissaries from
the east coast had been bringing tales of strange floating "towers" along the
[She was) alwaysvery shrewd. (137) shore. Bearded, light-skinned strangers occasionally made brief landings.
A trunk containing strange clothes had washed ashore and been brought
Marina seems to have been held in respect by the Spaniards in general, to Motezuma's court.
being given the title "doña" (pronounced DÓN-ya, with a long o), usually How do we know what Motezuma and the Mexica were thinking during
assigned to noble or respected Spanish women. She is a crucial figure in the turbulent months of first contact with the Europeans? By great good
North American history, because most of Cortés's negotiations with the fortune, we have fascinating accounts from the Mexica themselves. The
Native American populace in the ensuing months would be conducted survival of these accounts is an epic story in itself. A few years after Cortés's
through her. She is also enigmatic; we have no clear records of her own conquest, many of the "first-generation" Spanish priests and governors
thoughts. From the early 1800s until modern times in Mexico, she's been attempted to suppress and destroy Aztec culture and religion in order to
depicted as a traitor to Native American peoples because of her role in establish Christianity. Sorne second- and third-generation priests, however,
establishing Spanish supremacy in Mexico and Central America. That developed curiosity about the ancient Mexican worldviews and began to
view would have made little sense to her, however. She could not have seen collect old books and song texts. Today, we are glad they <lid.
herself in the context of "Europeans" versus "Native American culture" The surviving records carne from knowledgeable native residents and
because her world was not transatlantic. The Mexico she knew was divided from preconquest Aztec books. The books were painted on deerskin or a
into numerous local and/or regional factions, accustomed to complex alli- fibrous paper made from the agave plant. They offer missing-link insight
anees. The strange, bearded aliens offered an alliance with her people to into the origins of written language. Created by educated priests and scribes,
overthrow the imperialistic Aztec tax collectors from their capital, Tenoch- they were mostly cosmological, dealing with the calendar, religious rituals,
titlan, now known as Mexico City. La Malinche remains a paradox. Was she major events in Aztec history, and the Aztec view of the universe and its
a gifted champion of indigenous people who may have softened the heart gods. They combined beautifully rendered, cartoon-like pictures with a sort
of Cortés against blind slaughter, or was she a collaborator with the enemy? of protowriting employing ideograms and phonetic symbols.
In modern Mexican Spanish, the term malínchísmo refers contemptuously The most notable example of preservation occurred around the 1550s,
to the adoption of foreign customs. when a far-sighted Spanish priest, Bernardino de Sahagún (1499-1590),
Cortés's concerns were different from the mysteries concerning commissioned historical accounts of Aztec civilization by Aztec eyewit-
Malinche. He had put a banner on his flagship carrying a Latín exhorta- nesses. Sahagún's newly converted young Mexican acolytes, who could
tion: "Comrades, we follow the cross, and if we have faith, we will conquer write Spanish, were instructed to interview Mexican elders who had
in this sign." But was there anything in Yucatán to conquer? The flash of experienced the Spanish invasion. The most complete original version
gold was rarely seen among the coastal Maya, but Cortés began to hear tales of Sahagún's work is a bilingual manuscript preserved in Florence, ltaly,
of a wealthy, gold-splashed empire somewhere inland. The inland empire consisting of a column of Aztec "text" anda parallel column with a Span-
builders called themselves the Mexica (pronounced meh-SHE-ka). They ish commentary. Modern printed versions have been available in Spanish
were the people who eventually gave their name to Mexico itself. Later since 1829. Sahagún's work was studied by the Mexican historian Miguel
they carne to be called by another name in their Nahuatl language, Aztecs, León-Portilla in 1959; his account was translated and published in English
referring to the ancestral founders of their culture. We'll refer to them as
the Spaniards kncw thcm, "Mcxica," exccpt when thc tcrm "Aztec" may * 'l cnochtitlan is oflcu spcllcd with a11:t('('l'lll ovcr tlic a, tlio11gli Coronado scholar Richard
he clcarcr than thc tcnn "Mcxican." Fli11t uud otlicrs point 0111that thc Azlt·¡· l:111g11agt',Nnhu.ul, did 1101acccut thc las! syllahlc.
18 Chapter 1 Cortés arul the Colcl of Mexico 19

in 1962. The first complete English translation of the Floren ce manuscript hourglass. The ancient nation, forcecl through the nexus, was reclucecl to a
was finally created by historians Arthur Anderson ancl Charles Dibble in handful of fragile rnanuscripts from a few survivors. Many of the Mexican
1969, and here I've usecl their 1978 version of the final section, along with eyewitnesses contributing to the Aztec accounts were highly cultured,
the León-Portilla translation of various records. León-Portilla, in his intro- sophisticatecl, literate men and women who spoke frorn the heart about
duction, aptly compares what he calls Aztec "literary remains" to Horner's what had happened to thern.
Iliad, a semilegendary rnemory of an epic invasion. The collision of two worlcls was thus clocurnented from both sides. Cener-
Here, then, is the poignant Mexican counterpoint to the Europeans' ations of Americans, until the late twentieth century, grew up prirnarily with
version. It's the story of an en tire civilization caught in the neck of history's accounts basecl on the writings of the Spanish conquerors-if they leamecl
anything at ali about the conc¡uest of Mexico. In our twenty-first century, as
the world struggles toward a comfortable planetary culture of rnixed roots,
the parallel stories of the epi e, tolcl frorn both sicles, are mu ch more valuable,
SIDEBAR: The Name of the Aztec Ruler For this reason, the present book is clevotecl to retel! ing the early explorations
From the halls of Montezuma ... " begins "The Marines' Hymn," referring to of western North Arnerica frorn both sicles as rnuch as possible.
e leader Cortés was soon to meet. (The song commemorates the U.S. invasion There is a caveat to the clairn that we have eyewitness accounts from the
f Mexico under President Polk in 1846--47,conveniently forgotten in the United Mexican sicle. Historians correctly point out that the Aztec accounts were
States today. Gen.Winfíeld Scott, like Cortés, landed at Veracruz and marched on filterecl through translations supervised usually by Spanish priests, so that
Mexico City with offícers such as Ulysses S. Grant, Robert E. Lee, and Stonewall many of the original Mexican concepts may have been poorly represented
Jackson.) "Montezuma" is thus a name familiar to American schoolchildren. But or cleliberately misrepresentecl by the Spanish supervisors. Anclerson and
what was the pronunciation that Cortés and his troops actually heard? As with Dibble, translators of Sahagún, state in their introduction that "we cannot
most names in early Spanish documents of the New World, the answer is not ancl do not clairn that the Aztec account is accurate ancl dispassionate."
certain. Individual eyewítnesses and memoir writers heard local native pronun- Twentieth-century revisionist and contextual scholars go even further, argu-
ciations and attempted to render them in Spanish alphabetic characters. As a ing that no ancient writing represents reliable truth because of clifferent
natural result, there were different spellings by different writers, such as those meanings attached to concepts in other cultural contexts. Nonetheless,
listed by historian Hugh Thomas: Aztec accounts plainly describe slaughters by the Spaniards, confirmed
inclepenclently on the Spanish sicle. These accounts would harclly have
utezuma (ca. 1521,attributed to Cortés himself}
survivecl propaganclistic Spanish censorship. Many details, such as Mote-
Motecuma (ca. 1541,Codex Mendoza, compiled forthe Spanish viceroy,
zurna's anxiety over the Spaniards' arrival, seem icleologically neutral ancl
Antonio Mendoza)
humanly realistic. In terrns of our atternpt ata first-order "big picture," the
Motecu~uma (ca. 1547,Spanish historian Bernardino de Sahagún, writ- Aztec historical accounts appear to be remarkably frank, heartfelt docu-
ing in 1547and fol!owi ments about what happened, fu]] of genuine pathos ancl drama.

Strangers on the Coast: 1518

ms fo be no evídence for a prominent n sound, as in the common The Mcxican accounts indicare how their messengers came to Tenoch-
nglish rendition. Even more uncertainty of sound appears in the second syllable, titlan with ncwx of a slrangc vcxscl off tl1c casi coast in the Aztec year of
which seems to be two syllables in sorne sixteenth-century renditíons. Synthe- 12 l'linl Kuilc. or l S18, tl1c yc;1r lid~1wCortés .urivcd. 'J'his ship, which
sizing, 1use "Motezuma" as the best English rendering of what Cortés may have .mivcd olT prcsc1il-d:1y VL'Lll·1111.1s lwl1nwd lo l1;1vL'bccn caplained by
heard in the courtyards of Tenochtitlan. )11;111 dl' ( :ri¡:ilv:1. M"k1.11111:1xcu l ,·1111ss;11 ux '" l l« co;1sl lo spy 011 lhc
slr:111gns. l'111<l,·11li\·.
l11J\l'l'l'l'I. llll' /\1l<r.' :111wd;',ills k:illwrl·<i l:q)('s i11
20 • Chapter 1 Cortés and the Gold of Mexico • 21

the style allowed only far the emperor, Motezuma, himself. The messen- carnet had been seen in the morning sky around the year of 12 House,
gers located Grijalva's ship. Probably through regional interpreters brought which would be 1517.
by both sides, their story emerged: they had come from the court of the The carnet is of special interest. Records collected by Sahagún and
great Motezuma. The feathered capes from Motezuma were exchanged far León-Portilla have minor inconsistencies but indicate something was
necklaces of colored Spanish beads. The Spaniards soon departed. indeed seen in the eastern predawn sky every morning far rnonths, ancl it
According to the Aztec records, the Mexica began to speculate that Gri- was visible far at least three hours until the "the sun arase and destroyed
jalva's ship might be heralding the return of one of their most important it." It was described as "a sign like a tangue of fire, like a flarne," wicler at
gods, Quetzalcoatl. He had an identity as a feathered serpent but also as·a one end. This beautifully matches the appearance of a bright comet with
man. According to Aztec tradition, he had appeared in Mexico generations a prominent tail. Any given carnet is visible across much of the world,
earlier. He perfarmed wondrous deeds, bringing the Mexica "all art and so a moclern astronomer's natural reaction is to see if a bright carnet was
knowledge." In his human identity, he was represented as having a beard- recordecl by other cultures around that time. Modern astronomical histo-
unusual among the Mexica except among sorne elders. rians have collected such 'records, notably Gary Kronk in his 1999 carnet
Who was Quetzalcoatl? A cult about him seems to have arisen around catalog, Cometography. Frustratingly, nothing quite corresponds to the
the 900s to 11OOsamong the pre-Aztec Toltec culture in the city of Tula, Mexican reports. Chinese records clocument a notable carnet with a tail
somewhat north of present-day Mexico City. According to citizens of Tu la, as long as 1Oº in 1506 and others in 1520 and 1521 that were probably less
Quetzalcoatl was a priest ar king. According to one Aztec account, Quetzal- prominent. Kronk, in a prívate comrnunication, reminded me, however,
coatl was eventually chased out of Tu la, fled to the coast, and threw himself that a comet might have been visible only at latitudes from Mexico south-
into a funeral pyre. In another account, he departed on the eastern ocean warcl and thus escaped annotation in the better-kept records of Chinese
in a special snake-motif raft, asserting that he would "return from the east and European observers who lived in northern latitudes.
and resume his rule." (The latter account is reported in the documents According to the Aztec chroniclers, speaking with hindsight, the carnet,
collected by Sahagún; see Anderson and Dibble's translation [1978, 11].) the fireball, the temple fire, ancl other events were omens of the destruction
)ntrigued by these stories, sorne modern historians have wondered of Aztec Mexico. Today, we unclerstand that carnets, earthquakes, meteorite
whether the Quetzalcoatl legends are associated with sorne errant Euro- falls, and so on occur semiranclomly every generation or so and that we
pean ar Phoenician boat having crossed the Atlantic, bringing new skills humans are notoriously prone, after the fact, to associate such events with
to Mexico, generations befare the Aztecs. The idea that Quetzalcoatl con- plagues, wars, and the deaths ofkings. While the Sahagún and León-Portilla
structed a new boat and attempted to return home sounds plausible far manuscripts start with these events, it's unclear how much Motezuma and
a lost Mediterranean stranger in a strange land who transfarmed himself his court were worrying about a change in the world order prior to the
into a local hero a la Mark Twain's hero in A Connecticut Yankee in King Spaniards' appearance.
Arthur's Court. Perhaps Quetzalcoatl had no second coming because he Motezuma and his officials, like ali of us, were embeclded in their own
was lost at sea. Or perhaps he arrived at sorne African ar European port, culture. An adclitional, worrisome interpretation of the strange coastal
only to be considered a raving lunatic. How many such incidents must visitors carne, therefore, from their own history. The Mexica conquered
have been lost in the falds of time? Nothing has been proven, one way or the highlands of central Mexico and faunded Tenochtitlan arouncl 1325.
the other. They held a fatalistic worldview that history was made of inexorable cycles.
Motezurna's emissaries to the coast, convinced that Quetzalcoatl had Just as early Christians expected Jesus to return in their own lifetimes,
reappeared, returned to Tenochtitlan. According to the accounts written by initiating a new kingdom of God, Motezuma now wondered if the Aztec
Aztec historians, Motezuma and his court agonized about whether Quet- cycle was nearing its end-time. Quetzalcoatl, hero of Aztec mythology, had
zalcoatl was really returning. Motezuma related the events to "portents" reporteclly been born in the year called 1 Reed in the fifty-two-yearcyclic
experienced by the Mexica since about 1502. A temple hacl caught fire. A Aztec calendar, and in sorne accounts he diecl or left fifty-two years later,
fragmenting celestial fireball had been scen in thc sky, dropping "sparks," again in 1 Reed. The year Cortés arrived, two years after Crijalva's ship, was
as metcoritic fircballs do. Also, if wc iudgc thc rccorcls corrcctly, a bright 1 Reed, as discussed by Anderson ancl Dibble (1978, 12).
22 • Chapter 1

Motezuma's World: 1518

According to most Mexican accounts, Motezuma was about fifty years

old when these events occurred. In European style, he would be called
Motezuma 11, because he was the second ruler with this name; the first ~
ruled around 1450. Motezuma 11seems to have been too contemplative,
~ 1;-i ~~
.....•~ -E
cautious, and fatalistic to <lealwith the brash Spaniard who was about to i ~ N
become his "friend," adversary, and downfall. Bernal Díaz later gave us - "O
e: Q)
a detailed physical description of Motezuma, whom Díaz perceived to ·-...e

be younger than fifty: "The great Motezuma was about forty years old, of
good height, well-proportioned, and slender; he was not very dark, but of ...e 2
••••• Q)

"O "O
the color natural for an lndian. He did not wear his hair long, only long Q) e:
~ ro
enough to cover his ears. He had few whiskers, dark and well set and sparse. ;:::l ...:-
cr V>
e: ro
His face was a little long, but pleasant, while his eyes were attractive and he o
showed in his person and in his glance both affection and, when necessary, "O "ro
e: Q)

seriousness. He was very clean" (Díaz [ca. 1570] 1956, 158).

Motezuma's world was spectacular. His capital, Tenochtitlan, was on lr\
a- ...e

a two-by-three-mile island in a bay on the west side of a twenty-by-forty- ·- . Cf'l

mile shallow lake. The island was accessed by severa! mile-long causeways -e: ...e.•...

stretching from the nearest mainland shores to the city. The lake and •••••
...e •.• Q)

u o
causeways are gone today-filled in, century by century, to create land for o-
i:: e,
rn_odern Mexico City. The streets and plazas through which Motezuma
and Cortés walked now lie in the crowded heart of one of the largest urban
. ~
o •ro

;:'r,r:J;!; ~
v ro
sprawls in the world. Motezuma's city, however, had splendid palaces, exot- ...eo
•.• u
ically ornamented pyramids, court entertainers, gardens, canals, markets,
anda sophisticated culture that admired gold primarily for jewelry, import- ,1//~ a''~ ~
;;..., i::
ant ornaments, and utensils. Like man y of history's "advanced" cultures, the :.~t}1
.t;, ~'//? ~

ro oWJ

residents were supported by a Row of commandeered resources from other

provinces. Their concept of war was non-European. They held what they
called "wars of Howers," in which competing statelets sent armies whose
\ -J

~ o
o_,,,/¡ ••
•• ,...\.J ...,,1,•··
. . ''

1 ,V>

._g ~
¡:::: ·-

soldiers pursued not lethal destruction but rather the capturing of enemy
C) 'S ·~cb-OQ Q)
••• ·-
G ~""'_,s ..~
B~'"'" ~~ i::
soldiers. The captured opponents had the "honor" of being sacrificed on < '<:'111,_··.,.,~ ~
• Q)
~ ~
.,,, 'i¡,i'··11' •.."' º t > >...
the pyramid-ternples to propitiate the gods and thus maintain the cycles ~0 """° ,..,,,, ~ o o .s:
of history and nature. The rest of the defeated armies returned home and
~ ,~;'icQ
\,I\~~ u ~ e,
paid tribute and taxes to the winners.



~ "§ E 8
These words are not intended to promote a romanticized view of Na tive

~ .~ "3
American culture in the sense of Rousseau's "noble savage." The Mexica ...e e,
...e ro "O
¡:..... i:: u
were as capa ble of bloodletting and oppression as any modero society, yet . ro -:;
the Mexica scem to have avoided the ali-out bloody wars that have marred N
-c, t:: ...e
,~ Cú

l•:11ropca11ancl American history, 'I b thc Mcxica, ali-out kiliing of too man y ~ " u¡;:;
::::;o u
24 • Chapter 1 Cortés and the Gold of Mexico • 25

enemies hada counterproductive side because the gods would be deprived news to Motezuma. Cortés then released them, having sized up their reac-
of their sacrifices. As the Mexica were soon to learn, the Europeans hada tions about fighting. The messengers sped back to Motezuma. The Aztec
different idea. documents include detailed descriptions of the Spanish cannon and the
Spaniards themselves:

Cortés on the Coast: 1519 A thing like a hall of stone carne out of its entrails, shooting sparks and
raining fire, and the smoke that carne out had a sickening odor. It can
By April, having learned about the powerful and wealthy inlanders called crack a mountain, or shatter a tree into splinters and sawdustas if it had
the Mexica, Cortés had headed west and north, up the Mexican coast to exploded from within! The strangers themselves are completely covered
the area of present-day Veracruz (see map 2). From here, Tenochtitlan lay with trappings of iron. Only their faces can be seen. They have deer as
only about 170 miles directly inland. tall as the roof of a house, and these deer carry the strangers on their
Motezuma's scouts on the coast reported Cortés's moves. The Mexican backs. Sorne of the strangers are pale and have yellow hair, and sorne
leaders conferred in their palaces and gardens. How could they find out if have black hair. It is curly hair, with fine strands.There were other strang-
the bearded lord on the eastern coast was Quetzalcoatl himself, returning ers who were black with kinky hair. As for their food, it is like human
to establish his rule? Motezuma sent a new contingent of emissaries chosen food. Sorne of it is white, something like straw,with the taste and pith of
from his jaguar warriors. They contacted Cortés's entourage on the coast on a comstalk. They have enormous dogs, tireless and powerful and spotted
Easter weekend of 1519. Following Motezuma's policy, they made friendly like an ocelot. (adapted from León-Portilla's translations [1962, 30])
overtures, offered to build huts to protect the Spaniards from the rainy
season, and presented the most valuable and impressive gifts their society At one point during the early exchanges, a religious ceremony was
could offer: featherwork cloaks, cotton cloth, and decorative objects of held upon the return of Motezuma's ambassadors from the coast. Two
gold. They explained that the gifts carne from the great lord Motezuma, captives were sacrificed, and the ambassadors were sprinkled with their
who wanted to learn more about the new arrivals. Included among the blood because "their eyes had looked upon the gods, and they had even
offerings were complete sets of clothing and jewelry associated with four of conversed with thern" (León-Portilla 1962, 29).
the highest gods, including Quetzalcoatl, since the Mexica speculated that The Aztec accounts give us a wonderful sense of how the "aliens" from
the strangers might be these gods returning. The Quetzalcoatl materials Europe were perceived. The aliens were reported to be crafty, grasping,
included a jade neckpiece with a disk of gold, a shield decorated with bands hairy, and smelly. They spoke in a strange tongue that sounded coarse to
of gold, black obsidian-decorated sandals, and a snake mask of turquoise the Mexica's ears. The emissaries from Tenochtitlan included artists who
mosaic (suitable for his feathered serpent identity). sketched the strangers, prudently including their weapons and horses, never
The Aztec accounts describe how Cortés allowed the Mexican emissaries before seen in Mexico.
aboard his ships and received the gifts. The Mexican emissaries themselves On the Spanish side, Cortés made deliberately disingenuous inquiries
apparently dressed Cortés in the Quetzalcoatl trappings (Anderson and about gold. Did the Mexica have much of it? Yes. Could they, um, send
Oibble 1978, 14; León-Portilla 1962, 25). Cortés/Quetzalcoatl now played sorne more? Cortés explained that he knew it was of value, but he wanted to
his power card: he explained that these gifts were not good enough and had study the Mexican gold to see if it was like that of Spain. Gifts flowed both
Motezuma's emissaries bound with iron collars. He then provided a dernon- ways. Cortés sent items such as Spanish silk coats, glassware, a fine chair,
stration of his might by firing one of his cannons. The emissaries fainted and tools such as scissors. He also sent a gift of a metal Spanish helmet to
dead away and had to be revived with wine and food. Cortés explained to Motezuma with the gentle suggestion that Motezuma might send it back
them that he wanted to know if the Mexica could really fight. Therefore, he full of granulated gold.
would shortly stage a combat between them and his own men. Motezuma reportedly grew depressed about all this. He couldn't sleep.
The terrified messengers countered by saying that this was not what As recounted in the documents collected by León-Portilla, "He thought
they were sent for und that if they died, they would not he able to deliver everything he did was in vain, ancl he sighed at every moment and could
26 • Chapter 1 Cortés and the Gold of Mexíco • 27

enjoy nothing." Still, he tried to be careful. He did not want to anger these him, the modest and reluctant leader, to be mayor and captain general.
possible gods, nor did he want to anger an invading army from sorne distant Thus was founded the town still known today as Veracruz (vera cruz, "true
king. One ofhis responses was to send magicians and sorcerers to cast spells cross") on the east coast of Mexico.
on the strangers and confound them. That strategy failed. Cortés knew that in the Spanish system, major officials and operatives
Perhaps, instead, Motezuma could pursue mutual respect. He sent more faced occasional reviews of their performance and the legality of their deci-
gifts and more gold, and he continued to consult his soothsayers. sions. On the other hand, he knew also that success is a marvelous defense
against pesky law. If he could pull off a conquest of the mysterious inland
golden empire and present it to the king, he would have not only prestige
Cortés Establishes the Port of Veracruz: Summer 1519 and wealth but insurance against meddlesome prosecutors. "My rnen rnade
me do it" would be his line of legal defense, if needed.
On the coast, Cortés also considered his options. What he was supposed to
do, asan official sent by the Cuban governor, was to return home with the
intelligence he had gathered along the coast. But the New World seemed Cortés Marches on Tenochtitlan: August 1519
rnade for heroes, scoundrels, and robber barons-not meek bureaucrats. As
generations oflater irnmigrants also found, adventurers in this place could Cortez now began a program of rigorous exercise and discipline among his
get rich quick. Fortune favored the bold. Cortés's big chance carne from a men in preparation for a rnarch on Tenochtitlan. Meanwhile, he built his
discovery he made by interviewing coastal villagers, presurnably with the "international coalition," which would join in the noble march to free the
help ofhis translator, Marina. Various coastal tribes were not happy taxpay- downtrodden provinces. When he encountered recalcitrant villagers, he eas-
ers. They chafed at having to send tribute to the Mexica. Ever pursuing his ily defeated them in various skirrnishes and issued orders instead of requests.
own interests, Cortés concocted a dicey strategy, conceivably during pillow In rnidsurnmer 1519 a boat arrived frorn Cuba with about sixty troops
talk with Marina. He would ally his troops with the disaffected vassal states and sorne horses, presumably sent to check up on Cortés. Within weeks,
and march with them to Tenochtitlan to "free" them from their Mexican the newcorners tried to turn Cortés's rnen against hirn, but Cortés arrested
overlords. them and hanged two of the leaders, consolidating his authority. According
How to irnplernent this plan? Marina could play a key role in cementing to at least sorne of the early chroniclers, he now undertook another of his
the alliances, but how would Cortés defend hirnself against the inevitable famously brash acts. To end any indecision on the part of his army, he
later charge that he disobeyed the governor's order to return to Cuba? His ordered most of his ships to be run aground and burned. This cut off any
legal training kicked in. Even in Cuba there had been talk about creating hope of escape if the enterprise turned sour. His rnen would have to con-
a colony if the expeditionaries found a good site. In his Machiavellian way, quer or die. In a later investigation of Cortés's acts in 1529, the lawyer for
Cortés did not order such a colony outright. lnstead, he subtly fertilized his defense expansively claimed that this act of burning the boats was "one
the seed of this idea arnong his men. Sure enough, as the seed germinated, of the rnost outstanding services to God since the foundation of Rorne"
he "allowed" the rnen to come to him to suggest establishing a colony. (Thomas 1995, 223).
According to later accounts, Cortés demurely pretended to argue against it. In early August 1519 Cortés and his men turned their backs on the
To obey his orders, he should really return to Cuba! So skillfully did he pre- beaches of Veracruz and marched inland. The Spanish contingent nurn-
pare sham plans to return to Cuba that sorne of his rnen allegedly begged bered about three hundred. Sorne forty were arrned with the prirnary
him "in the name of God and kin~' to establish a permanent foothold in weapon of those days, the crossbow, Another twenty had newfangled arque-
the new land. The issue among the men, of course, was that if they stayed, buses-crude early muskets. Many carried swords. Sorne had metal arrnor,
they would be key players in a potential conquest of Motezurna's wealthy but most of the troops apparently wore the lighter padded and quilted
empire, but if they returned to Cuba, the governor would take over the cotton "armor" favored by the Mexica thernselves. It was capa ble of fending
whole enterprise, perhaps with a different army. off severe blows from the obsiclian-edged Aztec clubs. The company also
Cortés pretended to he convcrtcd to his mcn's wishcs-the goal he had severa! small cannons. lmportantly, they also had about 800 Inclian
wuntcd all alo11g. l le "allowcd" his 111c11lo Ionn a town couucil aucl clcct allics along with ubout 150 ludian scrvauts ami hcarcrs from Cuba.
28 • Chaptet 1 Cortés and the Gold of Mexíco • 29

Still, what an absurd gamble! A few hundred Spaniards, surrounding Motezuma <lidnothing. He ordered no war against them, because no
themselves with local native allies of uncertain allegiance, were marching one was to able to resist them in battle. He commanded only that they
over unknown roads toward a great, wealthy city that had already conquered be cared for.
all lands for hundreds of miles around. Their hope was that they could Hearing this, Tenochtitlan lay stunned. Nobody went out of doors.
somehow prevail over a population estimated by historians at 60,000 to Mothers kept their children inside. The roads were wide open and
250,000. What was Cortés thinking? "Better to die in a good cause than deserted, as if it were early moming. People entered their homes preoc-
live in dishonor" rana line he liked from a medieval play. Ni ce words- but cupied with the news. "So be it," they said. "Let us be accursed. What
if we could hit a reboot button and nm Cortés's bizarre adventure over more can we do? We are bound to die." (Sahagún account, adapted from
and over, like a video game, the Spaniards would surely have been wiped Anderson and Dibble 1978, 27)
out almost every time, and Cortés would have ended up in history-book
footnotes asan overly ambitious, bungling maniac.
In the end, his sheer gall, combined with the Aztec beliefs in a second The Meeting ofTwo Worlds: November 1519
coming of Quetzalcoatl and the end of a calendric cycle, was his major
weapon in keeping Motezuma defensive and uncertain. Fortune favored Finally, on 8 November 1519 (Gregorian date as reported by Thomas 1995,
the bold. 276), a stupendous moment in American history took shape. The Spaniards
Motezuma continued to monitor the peculiar activity on the coast and their coalition army arrived at the end of one of the causeways leading
and kept sending gifts of gold. A semipersonal correspondence developed across the lake into Tenochtitlan. Both sides put on their best front. Cortés
between the two leaders. lt was the spookiest political dialogue in North began a colorful procession across the causeway toward the city. Motezuma
American history. The two men, seemingly from different planets, professed and his court, at the other end of the causeway, moved forward with similar
friendship and interest in each other. Cortés explained that he represented gravity to carry out their part of this first formal contact between two worlds.
a greater lord than himself, the king of Spain. Motezuma said he would be Many classic science fiction stories and films have tried to imagine the
willing to acknowledge the rule of such a king and send a yearly tribute of first contact between a mysterious alien spaceship arriving above an earthly
gold, jade, and jewels if Cortés would just return home and tell his king capital city where citizens anxiously wait to see what strange beings will
the good news. No, Cortés wanted to come in person to see his new friend appear-and what they will do. That scene has already occurred in human
and bring personal greetings from the king. reality, in N ovember 1519 in Mexico City.
Motezuma repeatedly begged the strangers to go back and delay their Various Spaniards, including Cortés himself, wrote later letters and
approach. Food and other resources in his city were limited, he said, and memoirs about the events of the next days. Best of ali is Berna! Díaz's detail-
he wouldn't want his esteemed guests to be uncomfortable. He would send filled account, mentioned earlier. The causeways, Díaz tells us, extended
the desired tribute, so they didn't have to come and collect it. Day by day, for more than a mile across the swampy water. Díaz described the roadway
as new messengers carne into Tenochtitlan, Motezuma faced a deeper and as eight paces wide along much of its length. On that fateful <lay,he said,
deeper mystery. Why did Cortés keep coming, fighting his way through it was jammed with Mexican onlookers. Additional Mexican spectators
unfriendly towns when necessary? Who was he? Was he human or god? crowded together in canoes on either side of the causeway, waiting to see
What was he after? what would happen.
Motezuma vacillated about whether to attack the newcomers. He had At the front of the Spanish procession were four horsemen in armor,
apparently covertly arranged a few attacks against the Spaniards by outlying then a standard-bearer, then ranks of soldiers with swords drawn, crossbow
vassal cities while he, like Cortés, feigned innocence and claimed the colle- men, and so on. Toward the rear of that group rode Cortés himself with
gial friendship of great leaders. His strategy didn't work. Cortés defeated all a small bodyguard and more standard-bearers. Then carne the Spaniards'
comers. In the end, Motezuma concluded that resistance was futile. The lndian allies. Berna] Díaz gives voice to the strange blend of awe and fear
cyewitness Mexica accounts, recorded by Sahagún sorne thirty-five years cxperienced by the Spaniards. ('J'his quote ancl quotes below from Díaz
latcr, dcscrihcd how, in spilc of arg11111c11tsa1J1011ghis aclvisors, are abridgccl from Díaz's volumc, which is listccl in "Aclditional Reading
30 • Chapter 1 Cortés and the Gold o{ Mexíco • 31

and References." Page numbers are omitted, partly to avoid repetitious a heart. In the center were the flowers with the sweetest aroma. They
interruptions and partly because Díaz describes the events in sequence, so also brought Aowerygarlands, ornaments, and necklaces of gold and rich
that the relevant passages are easily found.) stones. In this fashion, Motezuma ... presented many giftsto Cortés and
his commanders ... who had come to make war. He showered gifts on
Gazing on the wonderful sights,we did not know what to say,or whether them and hung flowers around their necks. He put garlands of flowers
it was even real. On the land side, there were great cities. In the lake were on their heads, hung gold necklaces on them, and gave them presents
causeways with one bridge after another. In front of us stood the grand of every sort. (León-Portilla 1962, 63)
cityofMexico- Tenochtitlan. We were fewerthan four hundred soldiers,
and we remembered the warnings we had heard, that we should beware Bernal Díaz also describes the scene:
of entering Mexico, where they would kili us all once they had us inside
the city. Imagine it, curious readers: What men in the whole world have Motezuma wasrichly dressedaccording to his style.He wore sandals with
ever had such a bold adventure! golden soles,and with precious stones decorating the upper part. The four
We carne to a point where a smaller causeway branched off to the officialswho supported him -his nephews-were also richly dressed....
city of Coyoacán, where there were buildings like towers. [Wewill reen- Four others held the canopy, and still more walked in front, sweeping the
counter Coyoacán. - WKH] Here, many chiefs appeared, dressed in rich ground where he would tread and spreading cloths on it so he wouldn't
manties, each differingfrom the others'. They were Motezuma' s advance have to step on the earth. Not one of them dared evento think oflooking
party,and the causewaywascrowded with them. When they carne befare him in the face; they kept their eyes lowered with great reverence.
Cortés, they welcomed us in their language, making the characteristic When Cortés saw him coming, he also dismounted, and when he
Mexican gesture of peace and respect, touching the ground with their was near Motezuma, they paid great reverence to each other simultane-
hands, then kissing the earth through their hands. We paused as these ously. Motezuma offered his welcome, and Cortés replied through doña
lords went to meet the great Motezuma, who was now approaching, Marina, wishing him good health. It seems to me that Cortés offered his
carried in a rich litter, surrounded by still more lords and chiefs. Then right hand, and Motezuma did not wish to take it, but did so, and then
we approached to where they were, closer to the city of Mexico. As Cortés brought out a necklace which he had kept ready, made of glassy
Motezuma descended from his litter, the great chiefs supported him stones with diverse colors, strung on a cord of gold, sweetlyscented with
with their arms, beneath a marvelous canopy of green feathers, worked musk. He placed it on the neck of Motezuma, and when he had done
with gold and silver. so, he was going to embrace him. But the lords of the Mexica, who
accompanied Motezuma, held Cortés back by the arm, because they
Motezuma perhaps hoped that the strangers really were returning gods, considered this a great indignity.
including Quetzalcoatl himself, arriving to redeem Mexico. He must have So Cortés said that his heart rejoiced at having seen such a great
begun to feel he had the advantage. If they weren't gods, then they were prince, and that he felt honored that Motezuma would come out in
merely human and might be dealt with once they were surrounded in person to meet him, and had been showing him such favor in their
the heart of the city. lt was an old principie: it's better to do obeisance to previous correspondence.
the gods, because if they are real, you come out ahead, and if they aren't, Motezuma replied with other polite words, and then told two of his
you've lost nothing. nephews, who had been supporting him, to go with us and show us to
Chroniclers on the Mexican side gave their view as the great cultures of our quarters.... Space was made for us to enter the streets of Mexico
America and Europe made contact for the first time: without being crowded. But who could count the multitude of men and
women and boys who were in the streets and balconies, and in canoes
Motezuma dresseclin his finery, as clic!his princes and nobles. They ali on the canals, who had come out to greet ns? It was truly wonderful, and
wcnt out togcthcr to mect the strangers, bringing trays heapcd with thc now that 1am writing about it, it ali comes back befare my eyesas though
fincst Aowcrs-thc Aowcrthat looks likc a shiclclami thc onc shapcd likc it happcucd 011lyycsterduy,
32 • Chapter 1 Cortés and the Gold of Mexíco • 33

According to the Aztec chronicles, Motezuma gave an additional speech.

rrne Heart of 'Ienochtitian
"Youmust be tired, but now you are here in your own city, to sit on your
own throne. Our kings who went before, who were your representatives,
have preserved it for your coming. If only they could see us now! If only
they could see what 1see! lt isn't a dream! 1am not walking in my sleep. f
1 really have met you face to face at last. 1was in agony for many days,
staring into the mistswith my eyesfixedon the Realm ofMystery.But now ~
you have come out of the clouds and miststo sit on your throne. This was
foretold by the kings who govemed your city,and now it has taken place.
Restnow,and take possessionof your royalhouses. Welcome to your land,
my lords." (Motezuma's speech is here synthesized from Aztec accounts
quoted by Anderson and Dibble 1978, 33; and by León-Portilla 1962, 64)

Ancient Mexican sketches of this scene almost always show Marina

+-'ló°"'-""'ry í -~--¿ ___,....
"OU q>aface"
standing between the two groups at this point, handling translations. Mex- ofA.:{ayacaú, Sma!Ier A
ican eyewitness sources describe the next moments. wliere Cortés aná <Pyramiá 'r:!!::lJ
liis men we1l! --,&==-- 1
When Motezuma finished, Marina translated for Cortés, and Cortés (1'Úu;a !Motezuma s
spoke to Marina in his barbarous tongue. "Tell Motezuma to be at ease. q>aface
We !ove him. We are truly satisfied and pleased. For a long time we
wanted to see him and meet him faceto face. Now we have come, and
whenever he wishes, he can hear our further words."
Then the strangers took Motezuma by the hand, stroking him with
their hands to expressaffection. They boldly looked directly at him, sorne
of them mounting or dismounting their horses to get a better look.

Motezuma now led his visitors to the great plaza that still marks the heart
of Mexico City, known today as the Zócalo. He housed them in a palace
Map 3. The central section ofMotezuma's Tenochtitlan, ca. 1520. The temple
that had belonged to his father, across the square from his own compound compound hacla number of smallerstructures,and the exactlayout,as well as
and close to the base of a great pyramid with a double temple structure on the placement of streetsand the "Old Palace,"is still debated by archaeologists.
the top. The Spaniards gazed in wonder at their new quarters, which, as Map by Ron Beckwith.
Díaz described, were

coated with shining cement plaster, swept, and garlanded. Motezuma captains by the great honor he was bestowing. When the necklace had
had been awaiting us and as soon as we entered the great court, Mote- been fastenecl,Cortés thanked him, and he replied, "Youand your broth-
zuma took our captain by the hand and led him to the apartment where ers are now in your own house, so rest a while."
he was to lodge-richly adorned. He brought a very rich necklace made We divided our lodging by compauics and placed the artillery point-
of golclcrabs, a marvelous picce of work,ami he himsclf placed it around ing in a convenient direction, und it was clcurly explained to ns that we
thc ncck of our Captain Cortés, greatly aslo11ishi11ghis owu lords aud wcrc to stay very 11111ch
011the alcrl.
34 • Chapter 1 Cortés and the Gold of Mexíco • 35

Conversations with Aliens: November 1519 Cortés answered through Marina and other interpreters, emphasizing
that the great lord, don Carlos, king of Spain, had heard of the peoples of
Neither side was sure what would happen next. After dinner on the first day, this New World and had sent Cortés's army to visit and "to beg them to
Motezuma and his upper-class courtiers carne across the plaza to the Span- beco me Christians." ("Don," rhyming with "loan," is a Spanish title of high
ish quarters. What ensued was the first in-depth conversation in the history respect.) Cortés said he would explain more about the one true god at some
of the world between leaders from a sophisticated European civilization appropriate time. At the end of the conversation, Motezuma responded
and a sophisticated urban civilization of the Americas. The Nahuatl lan- with still more gifts. Díaz says:
guage, in which Motezuma expressed his thoughts, was at least as nuanced
as Spanish. Florida scholar Viviana Díaz Balsera in her 2005 book, The He gave some valuable jewelsto Cortés, and in the same manner he gave
Pyramíd under the Cross, notes that the Nahuatl speakers of Tenochtitlan triflesof gold and three Ioadsof manties of rich featherworkto each of our
gave great respect to the art of rhetoric, beca use, as they noted, artful rhetoric captains, and then to each soldier he gavetwo Ioadsof these mantles, and
can convert listeners' feelings and emotions into belief and action. For this he <lidit cheerfully and in every way he seemed to be a great Prince ....
reason, the dynastic governor in a town or neighborhood was known as Afterhe provided servantsand food supplies for us and the horses he took
tlatoani, the "speaker." Moreover, while sorne European languages (e.g., leave of ali of us with the greatest courtesy, and we went out with him as
the old English still used in religious services) retain a few pronoun forms of faras the street. Cortés ordered us not to go farfrom the quarters, however.
special reverence, such as "thee" and "thou," Nahuatl had those reverential
forms for nouns, verbs, adjectives, and adverbs, so that conversation could On the next <lay,the Spaniards went across the plaza to the palace of
be loaded with gracious respect for the hearer. Díaz Balsera comments that Motezuma, who advanced to the middle of his hall to meet them. Mote-
Nahua rhetoric sought primarily to placate. Even today, Mexican and Latin zuma insisted they should all sit and be eomfortable, placing Cortés at
American letter writing emphasizes phraseology that seems overly flowery his right hand. Cortés apparently launched into a lecture on religion. It
to business-like Americans, who likewise seem blunt and brusque to Latin was wonderful to complete their journey, he said, and visit such a great
Americans. The Tenochtitlan leaders' emphasis on flowers and gracious ruler. "But what he had chiefly come to say" (as reported by Berna] Díaz)
interaction may explain the Spaniards' perception that Motezuma was weak. was that "we were Christians and worshiped one true and only God ...
In keeping with the apocalyptic moment, both sides seemed strikingly but that the ones they worship as gods were not so, but are devils, which
preoccupied with their most profound religious and traditional beliefs. are evil things." To support this, he argued that the Mexiean gods had a
Motezuma was still concerned, from his own religious tradition, that these fearsome, bad appearanee, so "one could see that they were evil." Where
visitors might be gods themselves, such as Quetzalcoatl, though Cortés may the Spaniards had set up crosses, the Mexiean gods "dared not appear,
not have grasped all the implications of this during the first conversation. At through fear of them." Spain, he said, would soon send many priests, "who
the same time, Motezuma set the stage in order to fish for their reactions so live better lives than we do, and who will explain all about it. ... For the
he could measure what to do next. As Berna] Díaz described it, "Motezuma present, we came merely to give them due notice, and we hoped he would
took Cortés by the hand. They brought sorne seats, richly decorated and do what was asked."
embroidered with gold in many designs, and Motezuma asked our Captain Was Cortés naively and sincerely witnessing for his religion-the cul-
to sit, and both of them sat clown on their chairs. Motezuma then began tural tradition he absorbed as a young man being raised in Spain?
a very good speech." He said that two years earlier he had heard of other Or had he calculatingly judged that the Mexica were dominated by
Spanish ships off the coast and strangers who had landed briefly on the coast. religious symbolism, whieh he could manipulate by invoking his own god
He had been puzzled and concerned, he said, but now he was very happy to weaken their resistanee while at the same time creating a record to
to meet the strangers. Perhaps it was true, he ventured, that his guests were ingratiate himself with the Spanish king and priests? By attacking Native
"those of whom his ancestors had spoken in ancient times-men who would religion ancl announeing a New Ordcr of Christianity, was he cunningly
come from where the sun rose, to rule over thcse lands. Motezuma added laying out a legal justification he wou Id nccd in the future if he ehose to
that for this rcnson, "he was al our scrvicc ami would give ns ali he posscsscd." pursuc a policy of rcgimc clta11gc?Spa11isl1law, i11thc wakc of thc Moorish
36 • Chapter 1 Cortés and the Gold of Mexico • 37

occupation of Spain, insisted that all peoples be given a chance to embrace look! My body is of flesh and bone like yours, and my palaces are made
Christianity ... but also authorized what appears today as unchristian of stone and wood and lime. I'm a great king and 1inherited the riches
punishment for those who, after the offer, chose what the Spaniards called of my ancestors, true, but the nonsense you've been told is not correct,
"treason" (i.e., rejection of the Europeans' True Religion). and surely you treated itas justa story, justas 1 treated the stories about
Whatever the atmosphere that day in the Aztec palace, Motezuma your control of thunder and lightning."
replied with a reasonable and plaintive speech, reported by Díaz. Cortés answered, also laughing, that people always say evil things
about those who they think might be enemies.
Lord General, I've understood these arguments already [from your mes-
sagessent from the coast],and 1understand about your three Gods [father,
son, holy spirit], and your cross. We have not answered yet, because Getting to Knowthe City: Late 1519
throughout all time we have worshiped our own gods. We thought they
were good, as no doubt yoursare. So let's not trouble ourselvesby speaking The Spaniards began to record observations about Motezuma's daily life
more about this for the time being. and his city. Perhaps with official disapproval but secret envy, they noted
Regarding the history of the world, we in Tenochtitlan have held the that Motezuma had two women of noble birth as his official wives, along
same belief for ages, and take itas certain that you are the ones whom our with many mistresses. He was very clean and bathed not just once but twice
ancestors predicted would come from the direction of the sunrise. As for a day. He was cheerful and showed tenderness but also, when appropriate,
your great King, 1 feel indebted to him, and 1 will give to him from what gravity. His government and royal city contained jesters, books of accounts,
1possess.Asl've already said, two yearsago 1heard similar messagesfrom two buildings full of royal weapons, a treasury, an aviary of rare birds, and
those who also carne in ships from the same direction in which you carne. beautiful "gardens of flowers and sweet-scented trees." He had meals of
What 1 want to know is whether you are all one and the same people. thirty different dishes, from which he picked what he wanted; thousands
of plates of food were served to his court.
Motezuma may have been fishing (as Cortés had already done on the After a few days, the Spaniards were given their first tour of the amazing
coast) for indications of ethnic divisions that he could exploit. Cortés city. One temple complex contained a zoo with "tigers, two kinds of lions
replied that his people were indeed one people. . .. wolves and foxes ... poisonous snakes whose tails have things that
sound like rattles or bells." Berna! Díaz was enthralled, commenting on
Motezuma indicated that, while he had earlier sent messagesasking the "the infernal noise when the lions and tigers roared and the jackals and
Spaniards to stay out of his city, it was not of his own will, but because foxes howled and the serpents hissed. It was horrible to listen to and it
his advisors and officialshad been afraid. They had heard how we shot seemed like a kind of hell."
flashes of lightning, and killed lndians with our horses, that we were Nearby was the great market of Tlaltelolco, still a named district in
angry lords, and other childish stories, but now that he had seen us he Mexico City today (see fig. 1). Merchants traded in gold, silver, jewels,
knew we were of flesh and bone and had good sense. So he held us in featherwork cloaks, cloth, ropes, sandals, skins of deer and other animals,
higher regard now than when he was trying to understand the reports vegetables, herbs, pottery jugs from great water jars to small jars, firewood,
he had received. axes of copper and tin, biscuit snacks, bread, and captured Indian servants
and slaves to be sold or traded-men and women, sorne attached to long
Cortés thanked him. Then, as Díaz reported, poles with collars, and others walking free.
To get a better Iook, the Spaniards climbed the great pyramid, 114 steps,
Motezuma replied laughingly, for he was very merry in his princely way according to Bernal Díaz (see map 3). The lndians tried to help Cortés in
of speaking. "I know you've been told that 1 am sorne sort of god or the same way that they assisted Motezurna, but Cortés brushed them off.
superuatural lord, aud thut everything in rny houses is of gold, silver, On top were thc shrincs and stoncs whcrc prisoners from the flower wars
ami prccious stoues, but I know you're wise e11011gh not lo hclicvc it, [ust were saerificcd.
38 • Chapter 1 Cortés and the Gold of Mexico • 39

by snakes made of gold .... The face was monstrous with terrible eyes."
The other altar held a god of Hell, with similar appearance. Everything
around them was "clotted with blood. [Even] in the slaughterhouses of
Spain there is not such a stench." Five hearts had been offered to these
gods during the day's sacrifices. Moved by the scene, Díaz reports, Cortés
now lectured Motezuma:

"Señor Motezuma, 1 don't understand how a wise man like you cannot
see that these idols of yours are not gods, but the evil things we call devils.
In order that you and all your priests may know this, do me the favor
ofletting me place a cross here on top of this pyramid, and in one part of
these shrines let us divide off a space where we can set up an image
of Our Lady [an image Motezuma had already seen]. Then you will
see by the fear in which these idols hold it that they are deceiving you."
Motezuma replied half in anger-and the two priests with him also
showed great annoyance. "Señor Lord, if 1 had known you would say
such defamatory things, 1 would not have shown you our gods. We con-
sider them very good. They give us health and rains and good seed-times,
and seasons, and as many victories as we desire, so we are obliged to
Figure l. The Plaza ofThree Cultures in central Mexico City, marking the site
worship them and make sacrifices. 1 pray you not to say another word
of the great marketplace ofTlatelolco and the final battle between the Mexica
and Cortés's troops. The three cultures are marked by pyramid foundations and dishonoring them."
steps (left center), a Spanish colonial church, and modern commercial buildings. When our Captain heard that, and saw the angry looks, he didn't refer
Photo by the author, 1970. to the subject again, but said with a cheerful manner, "It is time for your
Excellency and us to return." Motezuma replied he needed to stay to
offer prayers because of the sin he had committed in letting us see the
"You must be tired from your climb up our pyramid," Motezuma said. gods and speak evil of them. Cortés said, "I ask your pardon if it is so."
"We never tire from anything," Cortés replied. Then we went clown the 114 steps. Sorne of our soldiers were suffering
Motezuma pointed to the incredible vista of the city and distant towns from abscesses, their legs were tired by the descent.
dotted on islands and around the lakeshores. Díaz says that as they looked
clown on the market, soldiers who had been to Constantinople and Rome Cortés himself wrote a description of the city in the second of severa!
and "all over Italy" agreed that "so large a market, so full of people and long letters he sent back to Carlos V, king of Spain, in October 1520, appar-
so well regulated, had never been seen before." The Aztecs had a greater ently based on the same tour. (The quotes from the letter given below are
public market than any in Europe. abridged; the original five letters can be found in Cortés [ 1519-26] 1991.)
Díaz says that Cortés then turned to one of the arrny's priests who had
come with him. "It would be good," he said, "to test whether Motezuma The city has many open squares, where markets offer continuous trade.
would let us build our church here." Cortés then asked Motezuma if they One plaza is twice as big as that of Salamanca. It has a portico all the
would be allowed to see the shrines and idols of gods. Motezuma consulted way around, where thousands of people come to buy and sell all sorts of 1

with his priests and then took the Spaniards into "a small tower or apart- goods .... Each product is solcl in its owu lauc, and the people maintain
ment wherc thcrc wcrc two altars with two figures likc giants. Onc was the cxccllent orcler. 'l 'hey scll evcrythiug by llu- piccc or by mensure of size,
god of war, covcrcd with prccious stoncs, gold, und pcarls ... surroundcd but l'vc ucvcr sccu thcm sel! uuylhiug hy wciglil. In thc plaza is a largc
40 • Chapter 1 Cortés and the Gold o{ Mexíco • 41

court-house building where ten or twelve judges are always seated to infidels, they began in the next day or so to look far a spot to crea te a chapel
settle any market-place disputes and have the guilty punished. within their own quarters, with Motezuma's permission. This led to a new
discovery. During the search far the right spot, they noticed a wall where a
In various quarters of the city, many temple groups and buildings are <loorhad been plastered over. Having heard a rumor that Motezuma kept
set up far their idols, ali of beautiful architecture. The greatest temple a treasure of his father in that pala ce, they broke through the <loorsecretly.
can't be described adequately by words. It is so large that within the An astounding room lay on the other side. "Such was the number of jewels
surrounding wall of the complex, a settlement of 500 people could be and slabs of gold and other riches that they were speechless!" exclaimed
established. Inside this area, around the edges, are fine buildings with Díaz. "[I] had never seen such riches in my life." The Spaniards secretly
large halls, where the priests live. There are at least 40 pyramids, tall and walled up the room again and covered it over.
well made. The largest has 50 steps leading up to the main body of the
pyramid itself, which is taller than the tower of Seville's cathedral. The
stone masonry and woodwork couldn't be bettered anywhere. What Do We Do Now?: Late 1519

There are many beautiful, large houses in this city. Ali the lords of the Hard reality soon set in. The Spaniards were in an indefensible position.
surrounding land, Motezuma's vassals,have houses here and reside in Their main Indian allies were still outside the island city, across the cause-
them part of the year. Many rich citizens also have good houses here, ways.Cortés's army was far outnumbered by Motezuma's guards. They were
with fine, flowering gardens of various styles. literally sitting on a golden treasure, which is what they wanted, but what
could they do about it? More and more, they felt as if they were in a trap. Then
Along one of the causewaysto the city are two conduits made of mortar, carne news that sorne of the captains and soldiers who had been assigned to
each two paces wide, and almost two yards high. Through one of them stay behind in cities that had been conquered along the way had been killed
moves a stream of good, fresh water, which flowsacross bridges over the by disaffected locals. In sorne towns, the people were in revolt. Díaz wrote
salty canals, bringing good water into the center of the city. Everyone ruefully that it was "the first disaster we had suffered in New Spain."
drinks from it. The other conduit is empty so that when they want to In response, they decided on a desperate play. They would seize Mote-
clean one, they divert the water into the other. The whole city is thus zuma, knowing he was revered as a god. "Ali that night," says Díaz, "we
supplied, and they also deliver the water far sale from canoes in the prayed to God that our plan might support His holy service."
canals along the streets. After the sun rose on the fateful day, Cortés took five captains, along
with Berna! Díaz, doña Marina (as she was now being called), another
The people's activitiesand behavior approach the leve!of those in Spain. interpreter, anda group of horsemen across the plaza to Motezuma's palace
They are justas well organized and orderly. Considering that these peo- (map 3). Cortés announced that they were upset that Motezuma would
ple are barbarous, lacking knowledge of God and without communica- arder his distant allies to revolt against the Spaniards in their town and that
tion with other civilized nations, it is astonishing to see ali the things Cortés would fargive this if the emperor of the Mexica would come quietly
that they have. across the plaza to the Spanish quarters- "but if you cry out or make any
clisturbance, you will be killed by my captains, whom I brought just far this
Tenochtitlan is ali the more impressive when we consider that the cventuality." Motezuma, says Díaz, was dumbfaunded and terrified. He
Mexica, astoundingly, hadn't developed the use of wheeled vehicles and, protested that he hadn't ordered any such thing. He would send far his own
of course, had no horses. Because of its exotic buildings and canals, the captains to verify this truth and would berate his officers far this situation.
Spaniards called it the "Venice of the New World." Cortés fe]] in !ove with Furthermore, he said, "he was not a person to whom such an arder could
the city and determined to present it intact to the king. he given. He would not go."
Nonetheless, the Spaniards were not exactly thrillecl by icleals of tol- 'l 'he argument went cm for an hour. One of the Spanish captains excit-
erance a1HIcultural divcrsity, Ensconced among people they regarded as ccllyycllcd out, "Whal's the goocl of all thesc worcls?'s either take him
42 • Chapter 1 Cortés and the Gold of Mexico • 43

prisoner or stab him! Let's settle this by either saving our lives or losing Cortés and Motezuma really seem to have held each other in sorne
thernl" Motezuma, startled, asked doña Marina what they were saying, respect, if for different reasons. Cortés repeatedly told Motezuma how
and she, "being clever," advised him to go with the Spaniards beca use they much he liked him as a man andas a fellow leader, but, as always, he kept
would show him honor-otherwise, he was a dead man. Motezuma offered his own long-term strategy clase to his vest. Díaz says that Motezuma was
a son and two legitimate daughters as hostages. It was not good enough. In "so frank and kind that we [soldiers] treated him with respect ... and he
the end he agreed to go. "Cortés and our captains bestowed many caresses behaved in the same manner toward us" ([ca. 1570] l 956, 191).
on him, and asked him not to be annoyed, and to tell his men that he was
going of his own free will."
So Motezuma moved into the palace of Cortés. A bizarre, make-believe Negotiations: January 1520
coregency ensued. Across the plaza, Motezuma's generals and court, gener-
ally more hawkish than their ruler, debated the strange events. His relatives The situation grew more and more untenable. About two months after the
and various nobles carne across to visit him and even asked if they should Spaniards' arrival in Mexico City, with sorne of Motezuma's nobles now
attack. Motezuma answered that he was happy to be there of his own free being held literally in chains, Cortés and Motezuma and their top aides
will for the time being. The official line was that Cortés and Motezuma met in Motezuma's room in the now-Spanish palace. Motezuma reportedly
had developed a friendship and were attempting to set up a joint, peaceful told his officials that because Cortés seemed to be the one prophesied
government. in the old legends, they should all pledge homage to the king of Spain,
The Aztec accounts, collected by Sahagún, illuminate the situation. They and Motezuma himself would embrace Christianity. Cortés, for his part,
say that after Motezuma was taken hostage, many of the Mexican nobles promised to treat the Mexica well. He proposed that, as allies, they would
"went into hiding, not only to get away from the Spaniards, but to express be able to search for even greater empires to conquer in this new world. The
their disgust and anger with Motezuma." Asfor Motezuma, he brought with discussions were said to be so touching that sorne of the Spanish witnesses
him many nobles anda retinue of women servants. He kept up appearances, wept-as <lidMotezuma. Historians have debated the actual mood at this
exhorting his people to remain calm. Even the personal relations between time and what words were actually spoken. Did Motezuma weep for the
the two leaders remained, perhaps artificially, cordial. Both men seem to end of the civilization he knew, for new friendship, or for sorne imagined
have been highly skilled and intelligent regarding diplomacy and human vision of a peaceful future? Was Cortés simply scheming to find the safest
nature. At sorne level, they were really trying to find a sustainable way out way out?
of the crisis, and at another leve! they were doing an intricate dance around A few days later, Cortés announced that if the Mexican leaders were
each other, probing for possibilities and options. One <lay,according to Díaz, accepting the role of vassals of Spain, it was only fitting that taxes of gold
Motezuma delivered a speech to the Spaniards: should be brought in to support the expenses Spain had incurred in coming
to Mexico. To make things convenient, this gold could be brought directly
"I want you to know that 1still feel indebted to your great King, and bear to the Spaniards in their palace. In the streets the crowds muttered.
him good will for having sent you to make inquiries about me, and the
thought that impresses me most is that he must be the one who is to rule
over us, as our ancestors told us. What I have ready for the emperor is An Unexpected Challenge: April 1520
the treasure I inherited from my father, and I knew well enough that as
soon as you carne, you opened the chamber and beheld it all, and sealed In April 1520 carne word that new Spaniards had appeared on the coast.
it up again. So when you send it to him, tell him, "This is sent by your Was this good news for Cortés? Were they reinforcements? They turned
true vassal,Motezuma."' out to be troops sent by the outraged governor in Cuba to arrest Cortés for
When Cortés and ali of us heard it, we stood amazed at the great goocl- cxceecling bis authority and marching on Mexico City instead of report-
ness ancl liberality of the Great Motezuma, ami with much rcvcrcnce, ing hack to thc king's officials. Motczuma rcccived this news even befare
wc cloffeclour helmets ami returncd to him our thanks. Cortés ami immcdiatcly rcalizcd that thc Spaniards wcrc, aftcr ali, nota
44 • Chapter 1 Cortés and the Gold of Mexico • 45

monolithic entity. A glimmer of hope now flickered befare him. Through to protect the dancers, but Motezuma responded to them that they were
his contacts with his nobles, he was able to make a few secret overtures not at war and that they should remain optimistic. As a result, no arms,
to the newcomers, and he even suggested to Cortés that the Spaniards defensive or offensive, were assembled at the dances. As for the impending
might now wish to withdraw from the city and that all problems could be ceremonies, sorne of the Mexica counseled that if the participants could
equitably resolved. perform their music and dances with enough beauty and dignity, it would
That was not Cortés's style. His was a personality that had to confront convince the foreigners that Tenochtitlan was a city of culture and peace,
any potential disaster. Fortunately for Cortés, the "police force" from Cuba thereby engendering respect from the Spaniards.
was led by a competence-challenged Spaniard named Pánfilo Narváez, a Alvarado, however, saw the festival as the time for a decisive strike.
man destined to appear, ill-fatedly, severa! times in our story of New World The <lay of the celebrations arrived. Alvarado, under the pretext of
explorations. Cortés reacted to Narváez by applying the golden rule of New wanting to observe the ceremony, marched with sorne soldiers and lndian
World get-rich-quick schemers: do unto others what's necessary to outflank allies into the courtyard of the great temple, where the main dances were
them. If you win and become rich, all will be forgiven, but if you are timid, traditionally held. Suddenly, after the dancing started, his men blocked the
your enemies will bring charges and destroy you. So, in early May 1520 en trance to the courtyard. Then they commenced one of the greatest stains
Cortés took part of his army out of Mexico City, led his force toward the on the Euro-Christian interaction with America: a gruesome slaughter of
coast, and made a surprise attack on the other Spaniards at night. In a the best of the city's young men. According to Mexican eyewitnesses, arms
fabulously cinematic battle atop a pyramid, Narváez not only was trapped were severed, heads flew across the courtyard, and victims of sword slashes
and arrested by Cortés's men but lost an eye. Many of Narváez's men then were seen staggering with their own entrails spilling into their arms. Killing
converted to the cause of the very man they had come to arrest, dreaming as many spectators as they could, the Spaniards then retreated swiftly to
of riches and glory under the charismatic master of Tenochtitlan. Cortés their palace, Alvarado celebrating his doctrine of a preemptive strike. In
thus augmented his own army with sorne hundreds of new Spanish troops the palace, his rernaining troops had also carried out their horrendous
plus food and supplies from Narváez's ships. Now the problem was to get assignment: they murdered many of Motezuma's nobles who were being
back and take possession of Tenochtitlan. held there.
In a single disastrous <lay,Alvarado thus destroyed any possibility of
collaboration or diplomatic pretenses of friendship. The Spaniards set up
Disaster in Tenochtitlan: May 1520 defensive perimeters. The Mexica cut off food supplies and closed the
market. The streets filled with armed men. At night, cries and lamentations
Back in Tenochtitlan, things were not going well. Cortés's dream of pre- were heard across the city.
senting the fabulous city to King Carlos V, thus assuring his own prestige
in the Spanish court, began to collapse.
When Cortés had left to attack Narváez, he left a reduced force in the Urban Warfare: June 1520
Tenochtitlan palace under the command of a ruthless officer named Pedro
de Alvarado. He was known to the Spaniards and Mexica alike for his fair Five weeks later, Cortés and his augmented troops approached the island
hair and radiant good looks. The Aztecs called him Tonatiuh, "the Sun." city on their return from the coast. No one carne out to greet them. Crossing
Naturally, Alvarado and his troops were nervous, having been left as a the causeway, they found a catastrophe in progress on both sides. Alvarado
small band holed up in the midst of an increasingly hostile city. Alvarado and his troops were hiding in their palace, desperate for lack of food.
decided to take action. Mid-May was the scheduled time for a major spring Bernal Díaz reports that Cortés angrily charged Alvarado with rnaking
festival of music and dances in Tenochtitlan. Rumors began to fly among a stupid mistake and even wished that Motezuma had escaped. Nonethe-
the Spaniards that this would be a pretext for massing Mexican warriors less, Cortés never really punished "the Sun" for the disaster but instead
and staging a revolt. Chronicles from the Mexican side record that sorne stretched the truth and blamed it on secret conniving between Narváez and
of Motczuma's gcncrals did proposc hiding arms in thc temple in orclcr envoys from Motezuma. Ironically, Berna) Díaz quotes Alvarado's soldiers
46 • Chapter 1 Cortés and the Gold of Mexico • 4 7

as testifying later that it was Motezuma's pleas for calm that saved the small rooftop party were reportedly showered with stones and arrows. Spanish
Spanish garrison from being overrun while Cortés was away.Motezuma, far soldiers allegedly raised their shields to protect the emperor, but Mote-
from being the spineless weakling that is often portrayed, may have been zuma was apparently hit by several stones. It's uncertain whether these
the only actor on the stage with enough vision to realize that more Span- were chance bits in a shower of stones or if the Aztecs were targeting their
iards would come and that sorne accommodation was needed in order to own former leader in order to remove him from the Spaniards' chessboard.
salvage a decent future. Moderates, however, are rarely crowned with glory. The wounded Motezuma was taken clown into the Spanish quarters, where
Historian Crane Brinton, in his 1938 book, The Anatomy of Revolution, Cortés's men began to treat him. He resisted aid, however, perhaps due in
noted that in serious social conflicts, moderates are often the first casualties, part to his overall depression. He lingered on. The Mexica were outside,
since they are seen as threats by both sides. shouting that this war would be fought to its end and that Cortés and his
Now began a famous siege. The day after Cortés returned, a brother men would die.
of Motezuma, released from the Spanish compound to get the market Cortés had one more trick up his sleeve. Around 16 June (Julian cal-
reopened, helped instead to organize a more potent resistance, a revolt not endar), while Spanish doctors tried to nurse Motezuma back to health,
only against the Spanish but also against the authority of Motezuma. In the Cortés organized his men to build three rudimentary "tanks." They were
following days, the Mexica openly attacked any Spaniards who ventured massive mobile wooden structures that could endose about two dozen
out, tried to set fire to the Spanish compound, and amassed stones and soldiers, sorne of whom carried the structure while others shot their cross-
arrows on the tops of their houses to control the streets. The Spaniards had bows through the ports. Early on 18 June they set out with three of these
a well in the middle of their courtyard, but stones lobbed into the yard from war machines, but the scheme failed. Díaz reports how the Mexica taunted
nearby houses made access to water difficult. In the next days, the Spaniards the Spaniards during these forays, saying they were cowards, hiding in their
set out in the mornings to gain control of the nearby buildings, only to be boxes like babies, and that their blood would soon flow on the sacrifi-
driven back. Eighty of Cortés's men were wounded within a day or two. cial stones.
Then carne an even worse disaster. According to the Spanish accounts, In the next days the Spaniards set out yet again on an even more striking
a group of Mexican nobles gathered in the plaza outside the Spanish com- venture. Stones had been flung into their palace grounds from the top of
pound. Cortés proposed that Motezuma go up to the roof to address the the large pyramid next to their quarters, so the Spaniards launched an attack
people. Díaz says the plan was to sue for peace in exchange for a chance on the pyramid. All of this was not the impersonal, aerial-drone combat of
to leave the city. Motezuma at first refused to participate. "What more does today's warfare but face-to-face sword-and-club combat. A legendary battle
he want from me?" he reportedly said. "I don't want to listen to his plans; ensued in which the Spaniards, including Cortés and Bernal Díaz, fought
I no longer want to live." their way up the pyramid, step by step, to attack the priests and shrines
Spanish priests were sent to reason with him. Motezuma responded, reestablished on the summit. In retrospect, this enterprise seems insane!
"I can't end this war. My people have already proposed another leader. Who else but Cortés, besieged in a fortress-like palace, would sally forth
They've made up their minds, and now I believe you will all have to die as into the streets to fight to the top of an open pyramid that could be easily
a result of what's happened." surrounded? However, as historians Arthur Anderson and Charles Dibble
Finally, Motezuma relented and went out on the roof along with body- point out in their introduction to their 1978 edition of Sahagún's collection
guards, a few soldiers, and doña Marina as a translator. At first the crowd of Aztec memoirs, the Spaniards were "the best trained practitioners of the
fell silent. Eyewitnesses from both sides are inconsistent on what happened art of war as it was waged in the l 5th and l 6th centuries."
next. Motezuma may have begun to speak, saying something to the effect "Oh, what a fight it was," Díaz says."What a memorable thing, to see our
that if everyone would calm clown, things could be settled, as long as he men covered with blood and wounds." The Spaniards reached the top, set
himself remained on peaceful terms with Cortés. The Spaniards could fire to the temple compounds, threw the idols clown from the summit, and
then leave, and that would be the path of least bloodshed, giving a chance then threw the priests clown after them. Cortés, looking out on the chaos,
for Tenochtitlan to have a future. At sorne point, however, the outraged was aghast at the impending mayhem. He tried to address the throng in
citizcns bcgan to shout in dcrision. In thc coufusiou, Motezurna ancl the a Ioud voicc, calling for an cnd to the violcnce, Perhaps he thought the
48 • Chapter 1 Cortés and the Gold of Mexico • 49

destruction of the Aztecs' main temple would dishearten his enemies. He Díaz asserts that Cortés and the captains wept over his death "as though
was hardly in a good position to call far peace, however, after desecrating he were our father, and it is not to be wondered at, considering how good
the Aztecs' primary religious shrine. History shows that societies' most vio- a man he was."
lent reactions involve insults to religious traditions. The Spaniards then placed Motezuma's body outside their walls, pro-
Years later, veterans of the two sides, like many graying soldiers, looked claiming that the leader had died at the Mexica's own hand and that the
back with grudging respect far their adversaries. Díaz reminisced that in carnage should stop. At least one Aztec account says Motezuma's body,
later years, he often saw paintings that the Aztecs had made, "showing the along with bodies of other murdered nobles, was simply thrown out into
battle as we ascended the great pyramid. They show us streaming with the streets. The Mexica, outraged at both Cortés and Motezuma, spirited
blood. They saw itas a courageous deed." Correspondingly, as far the valor Motezuma's body away. They reportedly burned it without the normal
of the Mexica, Díaz, in his chapter 26, wrote: ceremonies befitting a royal death.
Thus passed one of the most striking and enigmatic leaders in North
I don't know how to describe their tenacity.... In spite of cannons, arque- American history. Motezuma is often dismissed as a vacillating prisoner of
buses, and crossbows,and our ability to kill 30 or 40 ata time with one his own religious belief in a fated arrival of departed gods. A real leader,
of our charges, they'd fight on with more energy than at the start. lf we'd the implication goes, would have marshaled his overwhelming troops and
gain a little ground in the street, they'd fall back and pretend to retreat, defeated Cortés long befare he ever reached Tenochtitlan. Yet from a dif-
to entice us into a trap.... Three or four of our soldiers who had fought ferent perspective, Motezuma is a tragic hero. He was right in his suspicion
in Italy against the king of France or against the Great Turk, declared that the Spaniards could never really be stopped by direct conflict-even if
they'd never seen such fierce fighting, nor adversarieswho showed such he made this judgment partly far superstitious reasons. What good could
courage in closing up their ranks. come from slaughtering Cortés and his troops? Thousands of others would
have fallowed within a generation and decimated Tenochtitlan in revenge.
A few days later, the situation changed. Motezuma died inside the The macho thing might have been far the Mexica to fight far their honor,
Spanish stronghold, which had been his own father's palace. Estimates but honor is rather pointless if it means that your people and your cul-
by historian Hugh Thomas place the death on the morning of 20 June by ture all get wiped from the earth and from the history books. Motezuma
the Julian calendar the Spaniards were using (30 June by our modern cal- fallowed a different course, aiming far a one-on-one relationship with his
endar). According to the Spanish accounts, death carne from the wounds alien visitar.
received at the hands of the crowd. Díaz said he' d been hit by three stones, Cortés, the alíen visitar, began hatching desperate plans far a midnight
including one to the head. Aztec accounts tell various stories. One version escape the very next night.
discussed by León-Portilla (1962, 90) affirms the Spanish account, saying
that on the third day after Cortés returned, Motezuma appeared on the
roof and "tried to admonish the people," but they cursed him as a traitor, The Night of Sorrows: 20-21June1520 (Julian)
and he was killed by a stone propelled from the crowd by someone with
a sling. That same account, however, quotes palace servants as declaring During the next twenty-faur hours in the halls of Motezuma, the biggest
that, in the end, Motezuma was killed by his Spanish captors, who stabbed issue was what to do with the treasure the Spanish pillagers had amassed
him "in the abdomen with their swords." Other Aztec witnesses (Sahagún, from Motezuma's treasure room. The troops had already melted clown
in Anderson and Dibble 1978, 46 ff.) say that it was one of the Mexican many of the golden Mexican masks, plates, and other artworks into bars.
nobles who addressed the crowd from the roof and was declared a traitor In the afternoon of 20 June (Julian), not quite a week after Cortés had
by the Mexicans, and that this noble, along with Motezuma and other returned from the coast, the Spaniards began secret, desperate packing.
nobles, was ultimately stabbed or strangled by the Spaniards. Each side Ali the gold ancl jewels were piled up in one of the main halls. Spanish
seems to have developed its own official version of the truth. Motezuma, law required that a ccrtain fraction of all lreasures helonged to the king. At
in any case, was dcad. lcast eme goocl horsc and pcrhaps severa! wouucled emes wcrc loadcd with
50 • Chapter 1 Cortés and the Gold of Mexico • 51

traverse that first urban distance, then race across another mile of causeway
gold and assigned to trusted guards as the king's share. In the evening, says
to the mainland lakeshore.
Díaz, Cortés (always careful about his legal trail) called in the notaries and
The Spaniards got two breaks. First, the fateful night was "sornewhat
proclaimed, "Bear witness that I can do no more with the gold. We have
dark, cloudy, and rainy," according to Díaz. Second, through another unbe-
here more than 700,000 pesos worth, and there is no way to weigh it or
lievable quirk of history, the Mexica had no tradition of military operations
hide it. I now give the rest to the soldiers-as muchas they careto take."
at night. Hundreds of Spaniards and even more Indian allies were able to
What was the actual value of the treasure? A sword and a crossbow at
slip into the streets without being seen by the sleeping Mexica.
that time each cost fifty to sixty pesos, according to Hugh Thomas ( 1995,
For their part, the Mexica had cleverly destroyed the bridges over the
547). If we imagine that investment as equivalent in buying power to the
canals within the city and over the causeway gaps that were built to allow
cost of a three-hundred-dollar rifle today, we could say that the booty piled
canoe traffic on the lake. Just as cleverly, the Spaniards carried wooden
in the hallway was worth perhaps $4 million in equivalent buying power. If
planks that allowed the creation of makeshift replacement bridges.
it were being split four hundred ways, the average share would have been
Through drizzle aÜd darkness, the Spaniards covered a number of
around $10,000 per soldier.
blocks. Near the end of the first mile, as they approached the causeway,
The value may have been even higher. Plausible rumors surfaced later
they were spotted by a woman who had gone to get water. She raised the
that Cortés significantly underreported the total value-partly in order to
alarm. Drums soon sounded on the pyramids. Warriors of Tenochtitlan
keep a large share for himself. He cleverly stated that there was no way
leaped from their beds, ran into the streets, and launched an enormous
to weigh it. Why leave a notarized account of the real total? Who would
fleet of canoes onto the lake.
As the Spaniards and their Indian allies entered onto the narrow cause-
Each man now began a tragic search for a literal golden mean. If he
ways, the Mexica attacked from both sides. Cortés and his advance party
took nothing, he'd come home broke; ifhe tried to take too much, he'd bog
spurred their horses across the Spanish plank bridges. Many of the Span-
clown in flight and be killed. Díaz says he himself took four jewels-and
iards' Indian allies, bearing some of the gold, also got across.
tells us that this treasure served him well later ... but only to pay for food.
The makeshift bridges, however, soon collapsed into the lake. Rain
Much self-serving testimony surfaced in later inquiries. Sorne witnesses
continued, horses slipped in the mud, and many men at the rear of the
said Cortés spent his time packing his own gold, assigning it to be carried
column fell into the water. Many were drowned by the weight of the gold
by his own horses and native allies. Then, as things went badly during
they had hidden in their now sodden, quilted-cotton Mexican "armor." So
the escape attempt, he ordered the king's horses to be left behind. Cortés
man y died that, in the words of Díaz, "the water in the gaps soon filled up
himself, however, claimed that he put all his efforts into preserving the
with dead horses, Indian men and women, servants, baggage and boxes."
king's share.
Gold and cannons were jettisoned into the lake. A few of the rear guard,
Whatever the division of spoils, the men struggled to prepare for the
seeing escape cut off, tried to race back to the Spanish compound, where
secret midnight escape from the city. Cortés reportedly slept with a new
sorne of Narváez's (least reliable?) men had not even been told about the
Indian woman that evening, the daughter of one of the ally chiefs.
escape plan. Those ill-fated troops held out for a day or so but were captured
In the first moments after midnight on Julian date 21 June 1520 (Gre-
.md ritually sacrificed. Alvarado the Sun had been put in charge of the rear
gorian date 1 [uly), the Spaniards crept out of their quarters. The total
guard and was later accused of having abandoned his men, fleeing to the
number of escapees is uncertain, but the number seems to have been well
front to rejoin Cortés. As for losses to Cortés's army, Thomas (1995, 412)
overa thousand Spaniards and their allies (Thomas 1995, 408-12). First
cites conflicting accounts but favors an estimate that the army lost most
into the streets was an advance party of about two hundred men, followed
of the gold, around six hundred of the Spaniards, and possibly as many
by the bulk of the army, followed by a rear guard. Sorne of the Spaniards
as "severa] thousand" of Cortés's coastal Indian allies. The night became
were mounted.
kuown in Mexican history as La Noche Triste, "The Night of Sorrows."
Cortés was toward the front-not a bad place to be. The plan was to
'I'hc citizcns of 'Icnochtitlan thought they had won. They had driven the
escape the city over thc nearest causeway, which began ahout a mile anda
Spauiurds away, hui 110 complete victory was in storc for cithcr side.
quarlcr wcst of thcir compound, J<:verythinghinged cmwhcthcr they could
52 • Chapter 1 Cortés and the Gold of Mexico • 5 3

The Second Assault: 1520-1521 ahead of them due to trade among the Indians, so that by the l 600s, eye-
witness accounts no longer gave a true picture of pre-European, American
Cortés was a man obsessed. In the next months, he retreated a third of the life. This is why the descriptions by the ffrst explorers are so important in
way toward the sea, regrouped his army, and started building boats so that linking eyewitness accounts to archaeological data.
he could command the lake and avoid the infernal plague of canoes that By the spring of 1521, everything was ready for Cortés' s second con-
had cost him many of his men. quest. Thousands oflndian allies were enlisted. In April the new boats were
Next, in exhortations to his troops, he spelled out a four-part legalistic launched into the lake, and a blockade of the city began. The Mexica of
rationale for a new conquest. First, the Mexica had now revolted against Tenochtitlan amassed weapons and took defensive positions on the cause-
the Spanish king, and it was the arrny's moral duty to redress this situation. ways. Their main problem was maintaining food supplies. In May Cortés
Second, it was also their moral duty to bring Christianity to these people divided his lancl forces and blocked the outer ends of the causeways. For
and remove the pagan idols. Third, they could achieve honor in European the first ten days of lune, a standoff prevailed. The Spaniards advanced onto
history books. Fourth, they could achieve fantastic profit. Cortés added an the causeways each day, only to encounter destroyed bridges, defensive
oft-quoted remark: it was a special opportunity because moral honor and breastworks, and enraged defenders who drove them back.
fantastic riches "are rarely found in the same bag." In early June 1521 Cortés coordinated attacks along severa! causeways
Meanwhile, in Tenochtitlan, the gods hurled another calamity at the into the city, with instructions for the Spaniards to meet at the central
Mexica. In the autumn of 1520, a year after the Spaniards' arrival, an plaza, which they'd abandoned a year before. With cannon fire, Cortés's
epidemic of European-introduced smallpox swept through the Mexican division forcecl the Mexica to retreat, but his was the only Spanish group
population. The Mexica, with no immunity, died by the thousands. One that reached the plaza. As the afternoon grew late, he was forced to retreat.
of the casualties was an Aztec leader who emerged just before Motezuma's His troops were pummeled by rocks and arrows from rooftops along their
death and who led the final days of fighting against the Spanish invaders. way out of the city.
To the Mexica, the fact that the disease killed Mexica but spared Spaniards For days, the two sides continued a ludicrous, deadly game. In the day-
seemed further proof that the gods favored the Spaniards. time Cortés's lndian allies moved forward on the causeways, filling in the
Why weren't Mexican diseases ravaging the Spaniards in equal measure? breaks, and then the Spanish armies advanced across them ... but by late
As Jared Diamond emphasized in his 1997 best seller, Guns, Germs, and afternoon they were forced back. In the night, the Mexican defenders tore
Steel, ever since Marco Polo in the 1200s, various Europeans had been to new gaps into the causeways. During all these engagements, the Span-
China and back, and Africans were common in Europe. So the Europe- ish troops destroyed houses, starting at the end of the causeway, so that
ans had already developed a resistance to most of the world's potpourri of they could advance farther each day into the city without being attacked
germs. Native Americans, however, had been isolated on their continent from above.
with low population densities for at least thirteen thousand years and had On about the fifth clay,Cortés again reached the central plaza but again
limited resistance. The European invaders brought the world's medley of had to abandon it. More houses were destroyed to make the streets passable
nasty microbes and viral molecules to an innocent America. Estimates, for the attackers.
for example, by researchers Henry Dobyns (1983) and Daniel Reff (1991) Eventually, Cortés recognized that if his troops were to take Tenochtit-
suggest losses of at least 30 to 50 percent of Native American populations lan, the city would be destroyed in the process. "This weighed on my soul,"
in many areas. (According to at least sorne archaeological and medical Cortés said later, "and so 1 tried to find a way to frighten them [into sub-
accounts, Americans got their revenge by introducing syphilis to Europe.) mission] ." From the first time he saw the "Venice of the New World" he'd
This circumstance raises another interesting aspect of the Spanish dreamed of taking its pyramids, temples, gardens, waterways, and flowers
accounts. The first generation of Europeans in the l 500s, whose accounts intact. Now, finally, he began to pay the price of conquest and occupation:
you are reading, was the only generation to see the pristine New World clevastation. Merely to remove hiding places where defenders hid in the
as prehistory ended and recorded history began. The wave of disease and night and attacked in the clay,he clestroyed many of the buildings. Cortés
depopulation swept north with the conquistadors, perhaps even jumping ordcrecl sorne of his boats up eme of thc canals into the city to a point
54 • Chapter 1 Cortés and the Gold of Mexico • 55

where they could set fire to the palace of Motezuma's father-the Spanish Week by week, Spanish attackers penetrated farther and farther into the
compound of the previous year-and also to the great aviary that housed ruined city. Street fighting continued far another month, with occasional
the royal collection of rare birds. Surely this would convince the citizens ineffectual overtures far surrender. By the first week of August, a newly
to surrender! Far neither the first nor last time in history, the devastation elected emperor, Cuauhtémoc, met with his aides and discussed outlines
merely shocked the citizenry into more determined, destructive defiance. of a Mexican surrender. They concluded that Cuauhtémoc himself should
On 20 June, one year after Motezuma's death, a majar assault by a leave the city. He slipped awayacross the lake in a canoe with a few aides. On
divided Spanish army turned into disaster. In a chaotic retreat, about twenty 3August 1521 (by the Julian calendar) the end carne. The remaining Mexica
Spaniards were killed and another fifty captured. Surviving Spanish troops surrendered amidst the ruins of their city. Spaniards, exploring the streets,
met Mexica carrying the severed heads of their Spanish friends. The Aztecs faund such "piles of the dead [that] we were farced to walk over them."
shouted taunts that all Spaniards would end up that way. That evening,
Mexican drums sounded, and Spaniards could only watch helplessly from
the causeways as their comrades were pushed up the pyramid steps and
sacrificially executed. On 13August 1521,Tlatelolco,
heroically defended by Cuauhtémoc,
fell to the power of Hernán Cortés. .s

lt was neither a triumph nor a defeat.

SIDEBAlh Of Monuments and lnscriptions Rather, it was the painful birth of our multicultured nation,
Although the original temples and monumental architecture of Mexico City were which is the Mexico of today.
destroyed, a modern visitar in the mídst of urban bustle can still approash the
main plaza along boulevards thatlie atop the avenues, causeways, and canals 1like the wistful wisdom of this inscription. The cfimax of Cortés's ínvasion
where Cortés and the Mexíca fought. was not a glorious victory but the solemn inheritance of Mexíco. In my novel
The experience is marred bythe current state of Mexíco City.Those of us who Cities of Gold, 1compared that thoughtful Mexican inscription wíth the bombast
grew up in the twentieth century were accustomed to being told that ours was of an American lnscriptíon on an obeliskin a once-Spanísh town, Santa Fe, New
the century of progress, the triumph of technology and frse-market economies. Mexico. lt reads as follows:
Today,this view is debatable. Superb at extracting natural resources and building
fortunas in the shortterm, the twentieth-century system was less successful in To the heroes
the long term. Mexico City exemplifies the problem. who have fallen in the
In the 1920sthe city was a cultural Mecca, full of flowered parl<sand a mag- various battles with the --
net to creative personalities such as the much celebrated Frida Kahlo and Diego lndians of the territory
Rivera. Newmuseums aod a magnificent subway system appeared in the 1950s of New Mexico
and 1960s.By 2000, however, the population explosion had prodüced one of the
largest urban metro-messes on the planet. Bríght, flowery charm faded into the The blank is a missing word, chíseled out of the original inscriptlon sorne
pervasive smog. years ago. l'm told the word was "savage." The other side ofthe obelisk says lt
Amidstthe hubbub, echoes of the ancient city and the vivid events of 1521 was erected in 1866-68 by the people and legislatura of New Mexico. lt exsm-
persist My favorite marker is an obelisl< in the Plaza of Three Cultures, which plifies the dangerous, age.-old process in which aggressors with self-justífying
was the site ofthe great market callad Ilatelotco. The "three cultures" are exem- philosophies claim a moral rightto impose themselves on other peoples. Ofthese
plified nearby: the remains of one of Tenochtitlan's pyramids, an adjacent Span- two worldviews, the Mexican inscription's tender and wíse view of humanity
ish cathedral, and modern office buildings (fig. 1). The inscription on the obelisk, seems to me to be the one we need to pass on to our children if we hope to move
using the Gregorian date, tells the story. beyond Earth's cycles of violen ce and revenge.
56 • Chapter 1

Lost Treasure: Late 1521

The next generations of Spaniards, both in the New World and at home in CHAPTER TWO
Spain, were raised on tales of the fabulous wealth that could be amassed
by godly conquistadors like Hemán Cortés. Ali that was needed was pluck
and daring. Cortés was, however, only partly right: fortune may favor the
bold- but only in the short term.
Cortés Expands the Frontier
The short term was ending. Gossip in Mexico City tumed from political
policy to the question of treasure. Where was the gold that had been left
behind? Fortunes had been successfully removed by Cortés and others
during La Noche Triste, but more had been lost. What happened to it?
Mexica informants claimed vaguely that their people had carried it away.
Who, precisely?
Remnants of the treasure were found on Mexica fleeing the city. Perhaps
the goveming council on the Aztec side had succeeded in spiriting the most Cortés showed that cities of gold really did exist in the New World. But the
culturally valuable pieces out of the city. The rest was missing. fall of Tenochtitlan was only the first act in Hemán Cortés's dramatic life.
In the end, Cortés had conquered a burnt-out ruin and lost much of As mentioned in the prologue, few history books follow the rest of Cortés's
the gold he had claimed to have amassed in the first months of his arrival. story or revea! that he became a major player in the drive to discover more
His reputation began to be questioned among Carlos V's courtiers and the rich lands in what is now the southwestem United States. That story has
royal govemors in the New World. many twists and tums.

Setting Upa Government: 1521-1522

Cortés's first step after gaining control of ruined Tenochtitlan was to estab-
lish a govemment. In addition, he wanted to chase clown the lost gold of
the Mexica. He set up headquarters at Coyoacán, an Aztec town across the
south causeway from Tenochtitlan on the southwest shore of the lake. At
that time Coyoacán was a town ofbeautiful estates belonging to families of
various Aztec nobles. Cortés requisitioned sorne land, built his house and
outbuildings, installed doña Marina anda retinue of servants and retainers,
and created a goveming center.
Cortés tried-or at least pretended-to include Motezuma's successor,
Cuauhtémoc, who had been intercepted and captured on the lake. He
set up Cuauhtémoc as a puppet govemor of postconquest Mexico City
but in practice kept him sequestered in Coyoacán. One of Cuauhtémoc's
cousins became the actual leader on the Mexican side, interfacing with the
remaining noble Iamilies.
In thc first months after the fall of Tenochtitlan, Cortés's captains went
cm rampagcs to get back "their" treasurc, los! during thc Night of Sorrows.

58 • Chapter 2 Cortés Expands the Frontier • 59

They spread out to neighboring towns, often torturing local leaders in a Back in Spain, Cortés's supporters painted an image of wonderful con-
frenzied search for information about gold that might have been recovered quest on behalf of the king, but historian Hugh Thomas goes so far as to
from estates, hidden vaults, or even the shorelines of the causeways and portray Cortés in 1522 as "neglected and ignored" (1995, 541).
then moved into hiding places outside of Tenochtitlan. Worse yet, troublesome questions were being asked in Mexico. Exactly
At the same time, the conquerors, slaves to their own inherited belief how much gold had Cortés sequestered for himself during and even before
systems, began a centuries-long struggle to eradicate the various Native the Night of Sorrows? Of any treasure found in Spanish explorations, a
American religious ideas they encountered, or at least obtain superficial 20 percent tax was supposed to go to the king for the benefit of the country
allegiance to Christianity. Obsessive efforts were made to obtain allegiance as a whole-the so-called royal fifth. Cortés's partisans insisted that the
to their own concept of God, seen by the Mexicans as a curious three-faceted king's share had been set aside, but, oddly enough, the horses carrying it
divinity, a father, a son, andan invisible spirit, all linked by a mother who'd were the very ones that fell off the causeways. New rumors charged that
been divinely impregnated but remained a virgin. The Aztecs' ritual human Cortés was continuing to squirrel away gold found during exploitation of
sacrifices soon ended on Tenochtitlan's pyramids, but the governing army the surrounding Aztec cities.
did not have enough priests or theologians to begin a massive conversion As in ali enterprises after the first goal has been achieved, diques and fac-
of a whole civilization. The old gods were still worshiped in secret, and tions emerged. Cortés had his circle ofloyal officers,but man y of the ordinary
sacrifices reportedly occurred in the surrounding provinces. troops felt cheated out of their role in the glorious conquest. In public, Cortés
Eight months after the defeat of the Mexica, Pope Adrian VI consented claimed he was trying to find enough gold to pay the soldiers and enlarge the
to a request from Cortés to send priests, who would teach the Christian royal fifth, but, just as publicly, soldiers kept petitioning him for their back
cosmology and begin the mass conversion of the Mexica to Christianity. pay. Hadn't they been the victorious army? Where was their reward? In the
Bureaucratic wheels turned as slowly in the Vatican as elsewhere. The dark hours of night, scurrilous graffiti were scrawled on the walls of Cortés's
delegation of twelve priests arrived in 1524, two years later. compound in Coyoacán, demanding better treatment for his men.
In the sacristies and streets of Europe, a different kind of religious crisis What was the truth? Ouring later inquiries, various witnesses testified
was under way. Martin Luther in 1517 challenged the Roman Catholic that they had seen chests full of treasure and equipment for melting gold
version of Christianity. In the summer of 1520, as Alvarado the Sun slaugh- in the conqueror's home, and rumors circulated about how Cortés had
tered the Mexican dancers, Rome declared Luther a heretic. About the arranged for mysterious masses of material to be buried at hidden loca-
same time, King Carlos V went on a tour of European capitals, taking tions. Various captains and soldiers in Cortés's inner circle, who were
sorne of the treasures that Cortés had shipped back from the first days in officially recorded as receiving modest official payments, were said to have
Mexico, including a spectacular gold disk of the sun and matching silver received much larger amounts under the table. It's not hard to imagine the
disk of the moon, each said to be "the size of a cartwheel." The tour caused benefits for a conqueror who might report only a fraction of his captured
philosophic upheaval in Europe. An unsuspected alien civilization shared treasure, senda fifth of that to the king, and keep much larger amounts as a
the planet with Europe and China! In today's terms it was like finding slush fund.
fabulous cities on Mars. Alas, the Mexican artisans' gold and silver disks As early as 1521 the first inspector arrived on the Mexican coast to look
were reportedly melted clown to produce bullion for Spain. into Cortés's operations. In an echo of Motezuma sending messengers to
Cortés continued sending back letters and messengers to explain his learn about the Spaniards on the coast, Cortés now sent his own messengers
triumphs in hopes of securing royal favor and generous patronage. As the to the coast to learn about the inspector and his staff. Armed with argu-
Spanish court absorbed the news, they set up a governing body for the ments and papers (anda few bribes?), Cortés's henchmen managed to send
new lands, the Council of the Indies. The king reportedly used the term that party back to royal headquarters on the Caribbean island ofHispaniola.
as early as 1519. Cortés knew of the planned council by 1522, and it was Officials in the New World, annoyed with what they saw as interference by
set up formally in 1524. Regulation, law, and bureaucracy-the enemies meddling factions back in Spain, began to perceive Cortés as a winner with
of get-rich-quick entrepreneurs-were the inevitable handmaidens of civ- largesse to distribute. By mid-1522 the pendulum of Cortés's reputation
ilization. The council's influence was to grow. sccmcd to swing back in a positivo direction.
60 • Chapier 2 Cortés Expands the Frontier • 61

Dividing the Land: April 1522 in 1522 in Michoacán, a province about 200 miles west of Mexico City (see
map 2). Today, the name survives as the name of a Mexican state.
As he set up a government, Cortés had to decide how to divide conquered A report prepared in 1541 apparently by a Spanish friar named Martín
lands among his men. He applied a medieval system known as encomienda, de Jesoes de la Coruña (translated and edited by Ohio historian Eugene
already in use in Cuba and elsewhere in the lndies. Under this system, a Craine and Georgia linguist Reginald Reindorp [1970, 68-69]) described
Spaniard favored at court was granted a baron-like status over a town or the entrance of Spaniards into Michoacán in the early l 520s. The local
region-an encomienda. The role was like that of a baron in medieval governor placed "wreaths of gold on [the Spaniards'] heads" and gave each
France, England, and Russia. lt involved noblesse oblige, the aristocrat's of them "a round, golden shield." Two of Cortés's officers soon led separate
obligation to be a benign governor, taking care ofhis people and overseeing follow-up armed forays into the area, and each carne back with hundreds
his lands to increase productivity and wealth. The encomienda system thus of disks of gold and silver.
included the Spaniards' right to draft the indigenous population into pro- Alvarado the Sun, the notorious officer who had orderecl the disastrous
ductive work for the benefit of the nation-such as mining, farming, and slaughter of dancers that led to the Night of Sorrows, sent back additional
construction - but did not give them formal ownership of land or people. gold to Mexico City from another nearby locale. Cortés had ncver been able
Natives who happened to be living within an encomienda were supposed to bring himself to blame Alvarado for the massacre, but the two quarreled
to be fairly governed and reimbursed for their labor. In practice, however, over this golden shipment. In a 1528 lawsuit, Alvarado claimecl Cortés kept
the system led to exploitation to benefit the new governors, who had done it ali for himself. The charge, whether true or not, gives another clue about
nothing more than arrive with a paper title in hand, issued within the Cortés's reputation, since Alvarado thought others would fine\ it believable.
prevailing political-religious framework. Another expedition under Cortés himself resulted in the creation of a new
This old European notion of "highest and best" land use is still found eastero port, Pánuco, on the GulfofMexico coast (see map 2, top). A5 we'Il
in American zoning and taxation laws under the principle that highest use see later in this chapter, Pánuco would soon produce rurnors of aclclitional
generates local profits and thus handsome tax revenues for the community. rich provinces.
A good enough rule, except that a productive farm field is suddenly more Meanwhile, in 1522 Cortés ordered the rebuilding ofTenochtitlan. The
"valuable" if a "higher" use such as a shopping center is established on adja- Spaniards were now referring to the city not by its original name but as
cent land; thus, the field is likely to be taxed ata higher rate, often driving Mexico in reference to its occupants, the Mexica. We will use the modero
the farmer off the land. An unintended result is that sorne of America's most name, Mexico City, to avoid confusion with the nation as a whole.
fertile land has been lost after being sold off for suburban "development." Cortés overruled sorne of his own captains who thought it would be better
Many encomiendas, pursuing "highest and best use," carne to resemble to continue the new government in sorne less-devastated lakeside town,
the most repressive "company towns" of nineteenth- and early twentieth- like Coyoacán. Tenochtitlan, however, had been Cortés's dream. With its
century mining conglomerates. Workers might be paid on paper, but after symbolic importance, it would be the new capital. This explains why the
deductions for food, housing, and other services, they owed more than Zócalo, the central plaza of modero Mexico City, is exactly the same central
they earned. Overnight, they became slaves. Bartolomé de Las Casas and plaza over which Motezuma had ruled (map 4). The ancient palaces and
other reform-minded priests railed against the excesses of the system but pyramids, forloro monuments to a dying civilization, were dismantled to pro-
had limited influence. vide stones for the new Spanish palaces and the imperial-scale cathedral that
now dominates the space. In succeeding generations, the lake, canal, and
gardens were filled in and leveled to provide land for buildings (see fig. 2).
More Golden Empires: 1522 Tens of thousands of regional artisans were drafted to work on these
projects. Then, as today, Mexicans were amazingly skilled craftspeople,
As Cortés's captains fanned out from Tenochtitlan, they learned that they masters of ancient but still important trades. In 1524 the Franciscan priest
had conquered the richest empire of the region but that other wealthy Motolinía clcscribccl armics of thc native construction workcrs singing
cultures cxisted nearby. A smaller, but significant, golden empire was found und gossiping as thcy swanncd ovcr thc ncw civic projccls. 'I'hcir voiccs
92 • C hapler 2

a n d no equipm ent , 1I0t k n o wi n ~ how fa r it wa s to civil ization. O ne fria r

and one sailor sci oil <l lolI !; the coast, trekki ng 15 to 20 miles before fin ding
huliaux who led them to a Spanish xc ttlcrucut. T h e wounded survivors
on the beach we re then rescued, and thei r testimony was ta ken dming all
inq uiry 01117 Decembe r J 5" , At le as t O I1C die d SOOl) after.
T ile m utinee rs, fo r thei r part, to o k th e galleon northwest a nd hit the
so ut h tip o f Ba ja C alifornia bctwccu La J'a~ and C abo San Lucas (see
llla p 5). lrouicallv, X i l1l l' ll e ~ and twen ty-one mu tineers were then kill ed on
that desolate c oast bvlocal native inha b itants , ' l b c relll ai llillg hapless crew
saile d back across th e gulfto th e mainland coas t, where th ey we re lI ) e t lJ~
:'\ 11110 de C Il ~ ll d 1l , whn impri soned them and kept th e sh ip .
,\ t the legal in ques t, 110 firm conclusions we re reached about ruotiva-
fions . S inc-e the 1ll11 tillens called th e offic ers traitors and clu imcc] to he
for the ki ng. one wonders if thcy perceived that C ortes <1I 1d his officers
once aqain we re pursuing riches 1I 10re for themselves th an for th e C row n .
X i orc n e~ hurdlv . xccmct] a crusader for ki ng . ,lI1d co
. uu trv, however. J Ie
did 110 t sci sa il for 'vle xicu wi th a list o f e h <l rges aga in st Cortes's o ffi cers
hnt rath er ,.,ailed ill the other direction, ;1\\-ay from th e CO;lSl. Pc rh ap,'i , like
C o rtes, he wanted to discover nc\\' wealthy lands in h is 0\\'11 name <1 11(1sort
th illgs out la ter.
'\ 11 imi ght comes from th e tcxtnuon v o f all e11\ oy th a t Corte s scut to
the in qu es t. l ie warned that if Xilllcllc~ had found "good lan ds," he would
likely have reported tbcru to so m e other nation, becau se h e would ha ve
h"HI neith er m eans nor author ity to conquer or settle the ne\\ la nd s hi mself.
Such act ion s, b~- X i m c ll e~ or later p irat es, wo uld crea te a th re at to further
Sp<J u ish exploration. not to men tion, of CO IHSC , Corte s's considerable per-
sonal aspirations.

C ortes's 'I'h ird Naval Expedi tion: C la imi ng

Baja C aliforn ia in 1535

C on fi sca tin g Xi uicnc..'s prope n e, C or tes 11 0 \ 1 sci ou t to l!;cI his ship bac k
from Cuvuuln , taki llg personal onnniand of ~.l ne w expedition. 1h - rc c ov-
crc d the ga lk on an d in] 5,5 sail ed it a cro,\.~ th c gu lf to the so ut h end o f
Ba ja C ali forn ia, wh ere he fOlln d th e good harbor a t La Paz and cl aim ed
the rc~ioll for S pain Oil ., -'l ay ] 5,5 . lie tried to star t a colony thne.callin~
it Sa n ta C ru z (m ap 5). T h e land. however. turn ed out to be c xcccdiugf
barren, ha rsh , ancl dr y-excep t whcu hurricanes pas sed over. T h ere \\'a,'i 11 0
cxo tic tr ibe of A lll ,1I 0 tl wum cn, no Q u een Cal ifi a, 110 gold.

Copynghtad material
Cortes E xp (/ Il d~ the Front ier • 9,

Co rtes's m en did find m odest nu mbers o f pearls on the Haja coast. Also ,
h e h ad alrcadv written to th e kin~ in his lcucr of October 15 24, tel ling of
"certain sam ples of pcurlv" fou n d OIl the mainland coast and th e rum ors of
an o ffshore isla nd that "is Icry ric h in pearls and go ld " (C o rti's [1519- 26]
199 1, 253). "llr c act ua l numbers of pearls could not su p po rt a COI01 lY, how-
ncr. Cor tes's B<l ja Cali fo rnia enterprise never attracted much interest and
was soon d efea te d III the harsh de sert environment. C o rtes ha d to disband
th e C O] OI1\ ' ill 1516.
Hy Ihis lime C ortes had gambled <I fo rtune on exploratio n o f the I\CSt
coas t of Mexico and still had little to show for it. III his m ind, howev er. it
\\as a long-krill invcxhucut. l ie shlluou n shcd hopc-, that a new 'I cnoc h-
titlan or Michoa ca u or I'cru would he found to til e nor th. If he could
conquer such a place, h e cou ld no t on ly replenish his pcrvonul trcasllfy
but also sh ip enou gh go ld back to th e ki n g to ma ke IIp for th e .'\igh t of
SOHm\s . Il is dream of wealth ill the X o rth wa s about to he revi ved ill a
most unexpected wa y,

Copynghtad material

The Epic Journey of

Cabcza de Vaca an d Friends

(k r ause: o f the Sll (TC SSCS ill "l cunchtitlun, to the wcxf ill, and
southward in Pe ru , Spanish explorers competed not just to push north from
\ lc\ ico C u v bill also to brauch out ll oT/ l n n ml from C ari bbean bases ill
C uba and llispauiola. 0 11(' of the explorers from C uba was all old enemy
of Cortcs c-l'aufilc ;'\<In-;1('I,, th e ca ptain who bad bee n SCIl I [m ill C uba
to the coast of .\ lr:xico to arrest C ortex fo r hi s unauthorized conquest of
\ 1('-': 1('0 , onlv to lose <Ill eye ill h is battle with Cortes's men Oil a pvramid.
:'\an a Cf ha d mauagcd 10 rcturutc the aood !.;T<lCCS of officialdom. lie had
,I red beard, a dee p voice. on e rCllli.lilling c~(' . and poor leadership skills.
.Al ready 11 (' ha d participated ill a massacre of (w ha m ill Cuba aud thcn
joked abou t it ill Front of Hartolomc ric 1.;1;; C;1sas, th e priest \ 1"110 fought
for :\a ti ITs' righ ts. ;'\ 0 11" he had a charter to explo re La Flor ida, where he
awl other S pa niards stillho ped 10 lind another acldcu empire, or atlea st a
T\1mOTed fountain with mineral waters that restored vouthful \-igor. lt \\-a;;
sti ll not known \\"het her La Florida \\"a.s an island or ,1 new con tinen t, nOT
1\-;1Sit fully understood what cast- west distallces separated La Florida From
the discoveries in \ l exi co. X orth- south distances, or latitudes, could be
measured within a hundred miles or so b! observations of the stars, IJIlI , as
recounted in D uv a Sohcl's 1995 hest selle r, Lo ngitllde, there \\ <lS .. fillno
1\-;1\' to ma ke rel iable IlH';J SllTeS of longitudinal cas t-west distances.


Copynghtad material
The Epic lounley of Cabesa de VaCII and Friends • 95

:\ar\<le t's cxpcdui ou, with SCleral h u n d red men, set o u t from Cuba
10 e xplore Flo rida ill 1528 - tlle sall ie vca r il l which Co rtes h ad sa ile d
bac k to Spain to try to gain new authori tv in Amcrica fr om th e killg.
Hi s expedition was a disas te r. After eight yea rs of advent uring, onlv fo ur
pa rticipants sur viv ed to reunite with Spani sh socie ty. The four surviv ors'
ioum cv from m ode rn Flor id a th ro ugh Texas and tln-u al ong the present
lJ .S .-:\lc:\ico bord er (eith e r north or sou th o f ill and into M ex ico is known
mai n ly th rough \\Tilings ,Jssocia ted I\ ith o n e of th em , i\ h-<lf :\' \liicz ( :abez,J
de Vaca, who sta rted ou t <I S the ro yal treas urer o f the e xpedition. In 152 8
h e wou ld have been somewhere be tween tln rtv -six and fort ;. yea rs ol d, lir e
uldcxt of th e fo ur surviv ors. llis stmnge famil y name (wh ic h translates as
"head of a ("0\1" ) \HIS ha nde d down fro m a famo us ancestor '1 110 h ad used
a CI)\l'S skull as a co ded I\ ,nning to alert Spa nish troo ps to an unguarded
pass ill a fa m ou s S pa nish victorv OITr the M oo rs in 1212 .
C abcza de Vaca I\ as involv ed ill th rcc sligh II;. di ffcrcnt II nttcu versions of
the [ou mcv. T h e carlicvt version is kno wn as the "Join t Repor t." It \la.' ap par-
en tly prepared in I 5 ~ 6 , just a fte r the ord eal , by Cabcza de Vaca an d th e three
oth er survivors who will be in trod uced ill ;J m omen t. T h e or igin,J] is lost,
but ,I good Slullm<lry exists. pro bably m ad e between 1')4 3 a nd I,--1- 7 by a la ter
Spa nish writer named C onvalo l-cmandcz de Oviedo y Valdes (sec H edrick
.mc] Riley ] ( 74 ). Al...o in 154 2 Cabcza de Vnca circu la te d hi... OIUl personal
m emoir, I\ hieh he followed with a revised edition, publish ed ill 1 ))' ). T h is
memoir is still intcruatiou allv ill prin t toda y, IUOIT than four ce ntu ries late r
(Adorno aud Paut / 1999 ; Covcv 196 1; Krieger 20 02; Pupo-Wal kcr 19( 3).
:\01 a bad sllO\\in g for a memoiris t' Scho lars still argue over which of the
three vcrs icus is most accurate . In th e quotes below, I willnsuallv offer m ;.
0 \1'11 syn thesis to avoid la borious eOlllpil riso lls of the th ree ITrs iOllS.

T h e docu me nts of the Cabc za de Vaca pa rty arc no t ju st a record of

udvcuturc: th e y provide a unique record o f wha t I call the last da;.'., of
pre h istoric lill ie across muc h o f the sout he rn United States. H isto ry begins,
b~' d e fi n itio n , with \\ riti llg, and th e :\ an der_SIIT\'i\'()T.'> p roduced th e first
wn ttcn iI (TO IIII t of 1i fc ill th a t rcr.;i 0 11. F ur th crm ore, as I\'c 'll sec , th eir rep ort
motiv a ted the Spaniards ill Mexico Ci ty to cvpcc t. m ore than cvcr , an oth er
gold-lade ll dty in wh a t is now kn own , IS the American Southwe st.

Ill -Fated Travel s to Florida: 1528

:\ardez's expedi tion involv ed one fi asco after another. After an iuifialloxs
of two sh ips and fifty m en to hu rrican es in C u ba . :\'ard ez ar rived on the

Copynghtad malarial
% • C hapler 3

west coast o f Florida ncar T a m pa Bay in Ap ril 1528 \\ ith se ve ral ships
and a ll <HillY of aro u nd four hundred tncu. A~aillst-, S t roll ...~ annuucuts
C <J lle!-a d e Vac;J, ,:\ ard c!- decided to sp lit his men intoa Lm d pa rty anr] a
sea parte, leaving abo ut one hundred men in th e ships with orde rs to sail
a lon g the coast , north a w l west, parallel 10 tile troops. W ith some three hun-
dred m en an d so me horses, ho wever, X arrael plunged in land, march ing
north to check ou t reports ofTudic-an" settlements. As we kn ow today, this
is one oL\lll lTica \ most inun spicion .. coastal n: giom,1t\ hot. It's lll11gg ~'. It
has s\\'amps full of 1ll0Sqll itoes, S1 1<\ kes, and alligators, ' I be Spaniards fe u ml
neither golden cities nor fountains of youth.
C a bcza de Va c<l rcLlted that th e tro ops were tot;Jlly unprepared for all
inland march ill such couutry.andhc describes lmw , ill tire first weeks, tlre~
found th cm xclv cs stn r ~1i ll g through "water lip to th e middle of o lIT th ig hs,
and stcpping 011 oy ster shells tha t zavc us severe cuts on OIlT feci. " T h e sh ip
captains. meanwhile. h <l\ illg lost LOll tact with the army, ga\ e th em "I' for
lost a nd re turned to C u ba,

SIDEBAR : Probl ems wit h Reading the Old Documents

Reade rs of Englis h trans lations of sfxteenth-ce nturv Spanish documents (not to

me ntion biblical-era and other ancient sourc es ! nee d to be aw are of t he pitf alls
in t ra nsforming t he old rep orts into modern la nguage, It's not just a simple mat -
ter of tra nslating one w ord at a time Into a modern eq uivalent. First of all, word
meanings are muta ble over multicentury umescales. and old idioms may not be
clear today. As for dista nces, the Spania rds re ported their estimates in leagues,
but even the usage 01 "l eague" differed somewh at with time, pers on, and place
(see the side bar "How long Was a t eacue?" later in this ch apter), Worse yet,
sixteent h-centu ry Spanish texts had few pa rag ra ph brea ks, little punctuation, and
ma ny run -o n sentences lin ke d with innumera ble "an csr -c-not to mentio n am biq-
uous pronouns and antecedents. Here's an imaginary exa mple, constructed to
illustrate so me 01these si ns: "The captam and his guide met the people from that
village and on t he next morning they gave them news t hat a shr p ran aground two
da ys befo re on t he coast and t hey saw it was tr ue and they prepa red a reception
for t he m." It's olten ha rd to be sure about the who, what, when, and where of
t he sto ry. Written literat ure was still being cre ated rn t he 1500s Divisions 01 the
old texts into modern pa ragraphs and distinct topi cs have been introduced by
modern tra nslators. In a few key case s, however, one t ran slato r favo rs a me aning
differe nt from tha t of another translato r, Sc hola rly arguments abound.

Copynghtad material
The Epic lounley of Cabesa de Vacrl and Friends • 97

Scattered ill the forests were modes t agricu ltural towns, rc uurauts of
the mound-build er cultures of the Southeast. Like lll<l lly indigenous
Amer ic-an cultures, the mou nd bu ilder... peaked a rouur] the A. D , 1200s,
with large. well-planned towns, trade nctworks , and earthen pyramids . B ~ '
the 1400s aTlCl1500s they had reverted to small er I illages. N arvaez 's a rlll ~
soo n encou ntered stories of a major Indian town called Apalachcc and
tlrouaht itlllight be a ti cket to their 0 1\1l priva te ' Ic nocbtitl an. When t be ~
re;]Ched the town, ncar modern 'Ialluhusxcc a t the east end of the Honda
Pa nha ndle, they fou nd 110 m ore than a few trin kets of gol d, al ong with
mai zr- , deerskins. and about fort y ho uses of straw -like brush , "bu il t lew an d
in xhc]tcrcd p];1('(;S hccansc of the fe ar of the gre<lt stonus tha t occ ur <1 11 the
time ill that region." Aft e r re;Jch ing a second similar town , they ga\'e \l p
hope that Florid,J had ;lIlythill g to offer and realized they wer e strand ed in
wha t IH.' would call the Florida Pa nha ndle. "\\'e sal\' hoI\' little possibili ty
there \Ias of going forward, for ther e \I as 11 0 11 here to go," says C ab cva de
Vaca in a Forlorn statemen t. " bel l if the men h,HI wan hx ] to continue. they
cou ldn't, because most of them were ill."
In ;1 <b ring decis ion, :'\ ardez ordered construction of fi n: hoa ts _T he
expe di tion would sail west ,dong the coast u n til the~' came 10 the Spanish
settlement s they had heard about, suc h <IS Pauucc. T hey coul dn't k[l(m
that Piiuuco I\ ;,} ." abou t <)00 mile, ;}II';J\' around the curve of the C ulf of
\Ic\:ico coast.
"E veryone tho ught it 1\ <IS iurpossiblc," Cabo-a de va ca S<lys, "because lie
didn't ktlOl\ ' ho-v to ma ke boa ts, nor di d I\ T have the tools. iron, forgcs. or
piteb or rig~ i llg." T hey decided 10 sleep 011 it. Xcxt dav, "Rob inson C rusoe
crcutivitv' kicke d iu.

C od \1 ill cd that one of o lIT com pany came fo rvardto sa ~ ' thai he could
w akc some wooden tub es and ri<; <I lx-lluws lI il) 1 deerskins ' , . aud we
decided 10 make nails and saw s and axes and other tool s out of the , tirrups
and spllrs and ero,sbows and other bits ofi ron that we had. '1'0 <;ct food,
we m erle Fou r forac-, to the [nea rest] tOWIl , aur] cv c rv third day we'd kill
,I horse. .. ,\ C reek, <lo ll 'Icodn ro, made a kind oftar-li ke pitch from
the pine trees, From palmetto fiber a nd the ho rses' tails and manes I\ T
made cord " a mi from om shirts we made sails.

III six weeks they fi nished fiv e boats. each tlnrtv 10 thirty-fiv e fe ci long
;JJl(1 big e\lo ugh 10 hold ubout fcrtv-cigh t urc n. II II;J.S a fea t b eyond most
m odern adventu rers.

Copynghtad malarial
98 • Chapler 3

A Desp era te Voyage: Autunm 152 R

On 22 Septem ber . ha\-illg c.rtcn ucarl v ,JIl the horses, they sa ilnl \\cst along
the co ast, flIlllling out of water in about thi rt~' days. ' I 'r~ 'ing to get water a nd
foo d, they skirmished aloll~ th e \\ a ~' "ith coastal Indi ans who ca rne out ill
ca noes. III the mid st of one su ch G~ht, Cab c/a de Vaca rela tes,

111~'boat. wh ich was ah ead ofthe others, cam e to ,I point former] by the
land. and on the other side was a \ e r~ wid e river. I ga\-e orders to drop
anchor 011 a little Island. T ile gO'lTIlOr I:\ an <l e/ ] refused to loin us awl
put into a hal with more little islands, SO \IT gath ered there and were
able to take fr esh water out of tile sea, beca use ti lere was a strOllg current
offresh water whe re the river emptied. \Ve went ashore to roast some of
our mat -c. wl lich \I c 'd been cating raw. Since I\ C Found no firewood,
\\T decided to go around the point to the river. .\ ~ \\T moved the boa ts,
the current beca m e so '>t rong that it carried us uw uv from the lam!' even
thongh we '> trugglcd to reach it. T he north \l ind coming otT the shore
s\\ ept u s farth er out to sea <Igainst om will. \Vc tried to drop an chor but
could find no bottom, For two d,l\) . g.. to reach land.
. I\e sailed, tflill

Call Cia de V <l C;} \ account m a rks the Eur opeans' I ,2S di s eO\l'r~ of the
\l ississippi RiH'L Carried seaward by the m ighty [low, the boats were 110 \\
se parating. C abcza de Vaca's n ell' eau glll sight of (1Il1~ ' two oth ers. Ca tchillg
up to the closest OIl(', they found it was capta ined b~ :\',ITI"let:, who called
ou t to ask "llat C alxva de Vaca tll ol1gl11 Ihey should do , C abo-a de Vaca
counseled l,;} tchillg lip to the third bout, but :\amkz said it \\'as too far ahead,
and that he wanted to land, and that they would have to row for it. "Sinee the
governo r's boat had tile healthi est people am ollg us, we could not keep up. I
asked him to throv, IL, a line. hilt be answered that thcv'd he lur-kv to survive
themselv es. [ asked wha t his orders were for us then. ami he said, th is \I as
no ti m e for orders; it \I"as cvcrv mu u for hunsclf' Such were the b st words
of;\arde l in the history boo ks, T he rest of his story would emerge later.
After fOIlT days ill a stonu. C a lJe/d de Va ca's party lost sight of tir e one
remaining boa t. III the dill! light of dawn, Cubcxa de Vaca heard wav es
brea king oua shore, an d they tu r ne d tnwa n] the sho rel ine:"A \\-a\'(' toswd
the boat out of the wa ter, ami \\ ith th is great jolt, the hal f-dead men ca me
to their senses . began to slip O\'CT the side, and crawled 011 han ds and knees
Oil to IIrc laud, where they fouud SOllie protected gull ies I\i tl l water. \\'e
ma de a fi re, coo ked SOLLI e of our mai /c and Found some ruin wutcr, and with
the heat of th e fire the m en hegall to revive and their spirits pic ked lip."

Copyrighted maleriat
The Epic lounley of Cabesa de Vacrl and Friends • 99

It was the si\: tll of Xovcmbcr. Seve n mon ths after thcv had landed in
Flori da , they 1\ ere marooned on or ncar Calv cston Island, sou tll of modern-
d ;l ~- Houston, TC\:;JS_

Am ung the Texas Coastal Indi an s: 1528-1 533

Various grou ps of hal f-shmcd S p a Il i m d ,~ \\'ash ed lip OIl this coast in dif-
fcrcn tlocations . Tb cv SOOII encou ntered un clothed, barely fed bands of
ludians, 1\ 110 lived all the flat . grecH, luuuid ' Icxas coast amidst pine and
deciduous woodlands ,\ ftn bartering bcads an d bells for fo od, Cab cza ric
vaca's gro np tried to launc h their boat and sail Oil, but wav es capsi-cd the
boat Scvc rulnicu wer e drowned, an d the survivors were thrown onshore
esse ntially na ked , T hey were cold ami wet, and the weather \\'a,'> stor lll y,
C1 bcza de Vaca remarke d that "fire wood was scar ce and 111 csq uitocs plcuti-
[u]." :\1 ore sur vi vors died, but in the first days, the 11lI !i;lIl S were helpful and
took some of them in . Soon the e beard ,'> tories tha t other Spa niards were
"handed ncarbv.
'I'llc su ni \ -i11f.!; Spauiards Ilerc th I1S assi III il a ted in to di ffer crrt \tllagcs, but
their treatment deteriorated, and Ih ey were Forced into servitude. Cabcza
de Vaca said. '''I he~ lu n ked rue so li ard, I c-ouldn't bear the life I led , aud
decided to flee to SOIll C people \\ ho lived in the forest on the mainland. \1~'
finge rs were so won , from plill ing roots that <lli glil brush witlr some straw
would make them bleed." Aftn som e months he moved to the mainland
group ami establishcd a role as trader with various other tribes. I I I this role,
he made va rious [ourncvx of 4 0 leagues (lOn to 124 miles) a ud more.
Cabc za de Vaca . though unhap py, was luckv. From the viewpoint of
the loca l inlrabitauts, captured enemies lICIT the low est social caste and
were assiglled to va rious m enial ta sks. Somc were killed <I t once. Regarding
this period, the Join t Re port commented. " ,\ 0 one [of IIs1 could count Oil
"t<lying ulivc From one da~ to the ne xt." Ca bc za de Vaea wen t iulu nd with
his own captors 011 their summer migra ti ons to pick the seasonal fruit of
priekl~ pear cac tus, still a food st ap le today ill 1Ii any parts of C e ntral and
South Auicrica, where it is known as "t uua fruit.'
From time to ti mc, ne ws arrivct] about other survivnrs ill the region ,
Amidst one gro\lp stranded iu the fa tal :'\ O\-e lnber xhmu, the starved Spa n-
iards ate the flesh of the ones wh o ha d died . T he last of them, named
Esqu ivel, survived until -'larc h 1529 . According to this rep 011 , the fria rs
ill that grollp thollght (incurrcctlv) tha t their hO'll., had alr eady gone pasf
l\ illll CO. l-squivcl. when I<l st hea rd fro m , had planned to cscape and

Copynghtad material
100 • C/lI.J!J/er 3

back track toward the cast . In another zroup. four hikers and stron g swim-
mers were sent off to t r~ to reach I'annco and organi ze a rescue, but noth il l~
ca rne of th at eith er. So m e of th ose four we're la ter reported killed , (In te r-
eslillgly, unbeknown st to Cabcxa de Vacu, lin) other S pania rds survived
and were encountered ill 15)9 by tire expedition of llc rna udo de Sct o. )
Xcws of Narvaez finallv surfa ced . I lis boa t had reach ed some of Ili s sol-
die rs and fria rs strande d Oil th e coa st. li e picked them li p and helpe d thcru
across a rive r th at iu tcnnptcd the coa stline Th e m en campe-d onshore, but
::\' ardez decided to sta y that ll i~ht 0 11 his boat with the mate a nd a page . III
the m iddle of the nigh t, th e wind blc\\ the boat out to sea without allY011C
te aliz ing it. ;\ m d cz and hi s "crew" hurl 110 wa ter, 110 food, and IlO anchor.
Th ey were ne ver seen agaill .
C :lbeza de V:JC J h u n g Oll to h is life ill th is regi oll for fi\'(' ~T;n s . :\'e\\'.'i
of oth e r S pan ia rds diminished. O ne dav, durillg a trip to a region where
vario us villa gers converged to harv est th e prickly pears, he suddenly Iouud
him self reunited with three oth er survivo rs: An drl's Dorantcs. who was a

SIDEBAR : How long Wa s a league?

Spanish travelers of this period reported distances in terms of leag ues. To deduce
where they were requires us to know the le ngth of the league as used by Span-
iards at that time The term was often just an estimate based on travel time and
refers to distance along a trail, not the air li ne distan ce. In the larger expeditions,
like Coronado's, participants were often assigned to keep a count of the numbe r
of paces, giving a somewhat mo re reliable distance estimate , Still, the league
could vary somewhat from one writer to another and from gene ratio n to gener-
atio n. In the case of Cabeza de vaca. the uncertainty is compo unded by the fa ct
that he and his frie nds wer e trying to rec all their experie nces much later, Pub -
lished studies suggest a range of possible values. Among my sourc es , George
Undreiner in 1947 favo red about 3.0 miles; Cleve Hallenbeck ([1949] 1987, 46, 98,
100), 3.1 miles; and Madeleine Turrell Rodack (Bandelier [1886] 198 H, 2,6 mi les,
In the Spanish colonial period (1700s), the league was closer to 2.5 miles Ilves
1975; Chambe rs 1975, citing Gi lbert Sykes, who cited Pedro Font in 1775); Ro land
Chardon 0980) infers that it may have had two diffe rent val ues, about 2.6 miles
and 3.5 miles, Based on all this, for our inte rprerauons III the 1500s, I atte mpt
prudence by using a range of values, 2.5 to 3. 1 miles. For example, if a travele r
reports a jo urney of 10 leagues, I allow that the distance was like ly in the range
of 25 to 31 trail mi les.

Copynghtad material
The Epic 10 11 m er o{ Cabera de VaCd and Friell d.~ • 101

captain u nder ;'\Cln',le/,; Estcvau d e D oran tcs (E ste\'Cl ll of Doran tc s}. who
I\ as Dorautcs's black Moorish servant; and, from a diffe rent lndian \illClge,
all expc ditioll:Hy named Aloll.'i o Cuxtilln T he y ha dn't seen e-ac-h o th er for
ncarlv fi\'C yea rs. '"] k it day: ' reported C abcxa d e Vaca, "was one o f th e
ha ppiest of om lives."
Dorantcs told hO\\' he had been isola ted with a ll ludia u ~roup fo r tell
mouths, d igging roo ts for thorn. l ie recounted 1101\ Ihey would sometime,
run to\\'lml him with how uud arrov. fiercely pulling th e bow back to thei r
car wi th th e arrow a imed directly at h im .. . an d thenlaugh and say, "Were
I OU a fraid? "
T h e four made secret plans to IIH;ct d m in g the next Sl1l11 l11cr\ pric k]~
pea r harves t and escape inland. i\ n ~ l h i ll g would be bette r tha n \\ h a l l h e ~
held experien ced so far.
T h e ~'ea r was 11011' ] 53 3. the sa me year in \\h ic h D iego d e Cllll ll,ln
was probing n ort h toward Sono ra, and muliuv \\as e Jl(lillg C ort es's sec ond
expedition northward in to the C ulf of California .

\ Valld c rin g across w est T exas: 15H

"l he in tre pid fou r cxcapcr] in th e late suuuucr or fall o f I 5H, Sn eaking
a\\'a y fro m their res pective tri bal gro u ps, thee rendezvo used in the cac tus
cou nt ry of sou th eas tern coas ta l ' Icvas. pro ba b ly do -ens o f uulcs inl a nd ,
somewhere be tween CllIH'StOIl an d Sa il An tonio . Xow bega n o ne o f the
epi c adventu res of North American exp lo rati on. 11 1\ <IS not a g rand CT\1-
sall e with llag.'i llying and armor gli nting h il t a desperate walkabout by
shi pwrecked castawavs. "[ h cv had IlO chroniclcrs, n o logbooks, T h ey d id
1101 know where the y were, except for local iufonuants' descri p tio ns o f the

regi onal tra d e routes to uufaruiliar places. 'I b ey d id 1I0 t know which \\ <l~
to go , except to sta rt towa rd th e west. '1II cy had no Spanish \\e<l pons or
survival equipment. Xoucthclcss, the~' I\T rC uhlc to cul tivate the goodw ill
of people tb cv enc oun te red an d fin d their \\'a y to N ew Spain.
T h eil writte n acc oun t was prepa red after th e jcumcv. and even then,
there were no !!laps for them to trace wh ere th cvhad be en. T he y could
de scr ibe th e trip oil ly ill tc nnx of a riv er here , a mountain th ere, th e ]lTil e-
ticcs of peoples th c~' vixitcrl, and uumbcrx of {Llys between landmarks,
'I bdav, the problem for historians is to try to figure out I\'here t h e ~' wcu t b~'
matching their descriptions \\i1 11 moder n landmar ks or archaeological sites ,
h en' generation or so, nell' scholars take a crack a t th is intellectual treasur e
hu n t, utilizing the la test h istorical information. Reconstruc tion of the ea rly

Copynghtad material
102 • C/lI.J!J/e r 3

routes is ne t just all ,1I 1l\ Is i n ~ pastime but <I quest for <I pricel ess Illi ss ill ~ lin k:
eyewitness reports of American life ill specifi c pl aces during the last days of
prehistoric time Oulv b:- ' comhining all the Spanish dcscnp fionx of ;\'atl\T
Alilerican to\\llS, people, and behavior in the I :;OOs e,1I 1 \\'1: fill ill the g<lp
be tween <I rchaeclcgists' mute <I rrowh cads, bOIICS, a 11([ pottery sh crds, on the aile
hand, andthe 1I111cli better records kept ill th e I (JOUS and l7 00s 011 the other.
Of om fO IlT "reporters," Andres Dora ut cs \\'as perhaps the best known at
that ti me. li e \\"as an offic er of the .\";jn';Jc" expedition , and, after the ordeal,
hc was the one most often me ntioned in the records froru Mexi co Citv
llc'd be the first one ta pp ed ill M exico C ity to tr: to establish <I route hac k
to the north , C aheza de Vaca was the on e \\'1 10 became famous In virtue of
his memoir. Alonso Cavtilln, \d 1O Ilad been a captain ill Xarvacz's <lnIlY,
soun faded ill to 0 bsc ur i ty after th c i011 TIley, "l h c m ost i11 hi gu ing pcn ona Iity,
however. \\'a s the dark-ski nned vl oo nsh servant of D ora n tcs. Esle\'an de
Do rautcs. soructnucs called Estc\ all the Blac k or Es tcvanico. As we'l l sec,
he played a later, ill-fated role in the subsequen t Eu ropean discovery of
the Atu crican SOHth west. I I is exact racia I bac kgrolllld and appear<lllCe arc
uncertai n O viedo, \d 1O ed ited the sl1 n 'i\'ing version of the Join t Report,
says tha t Fs tcvau was born in the \ 1ororcan coastal town of A/ am or , which
is a bout 40 miles southwest of C asabla nca and abo ut 2:;0 miles southwest
of C ibrulta r aw l 'lall;;icrs (H edrick and Rilcv 19i -f, SOL ,\ Ioroeeo i.e, u
melting po t of lighter-skinlled X orth i\ fricallS and darkcr-skin11ed group."
{rom the sou th. Since he was known to the Spa niard s as Es tcvan the Blac k
and remembered in India n legends ,I S dar k skiunrr] and thic k lipped, he
m<ly have had a tleast SO IIiC sub-Saharan herit ag e. l ie sc ents to have bee n
the most churi xruatic uud oll tgoing of the 1I';Jm1cring gro ll p. A.~ the party
approached IIC\I' villages. he \\ ,IS the one who usually went ahead and
establ ished rappor t ill the next village . lie \1<IS de scri bed a t least once ill
the Cabcza rlc Va ca records as a1ll';J\'s chat ting with the local peo ple.
l-iv er since the old Spanish records beca me well known ill the late I SOOs,
h istorians ha ve mgllcd alxru t the roll tc of these four. \ Vc can hard ly blame
the cas taways fo r imprecise information . If you drove acroxx Texas without
a ma p, prima rily 01 1 back-coun try roads, k c e p i ll ~ 110 dav-bv-da v log, would
von ln- able. a vcar bier, to gin.' a clear descr iption of whe re .lOll II'e n t:'
, , .,

\ 'l ode rn scholars' proposed routes fo r the cas tawavs' journey across Tcx,[.'i
look like a tuuglc of strings to.>scd casually on a tuup of the sta te. C cucrall v,
the strings wander From C alvcston to the western tip off cxa s.
T he re a rc two broad ca tegories of routes. The mor e popul ar ones go
inland from the coa st, then bend west tOW:lTt! the Rio Crandc anr] ups tream
to 1<:1 Paso, abou t 300 miles inland. T he others follm\' the coast son tll\\'est

Copynghtad malarial
The Epic 1011m er o{ Ca bera de VaCd and Friell d.~ • IO~

toward P,i1 l1l CO, crossing the Rio G rande n car its Il 10 11 th , and then fi ll<llly
tu n uIll; northw est irdo C h i hnahua. All TOll tcs c nuv cn; c, m ore or les s, wh ere
th e ca st;l\\"a\-s crossed the Con tinental D ivide somewhere Ileal' the south-
wes t comer o f .'\C\\ ' Mexico. 'I h ell thcv he aded south across wha t is 11 0\\ -
th e Mexican stale o f Seno ra ill sea rc h o f other Spaniards .
To a m ode rn reader \I'ith a 111 d p such as our Illd p I . the decisionto bead
west ac ross th e mountains m av seem odd. W h y didn't thc v simp" foll ow
the G lIlf Coast all th e W;Jy to a Spanish colOilY sllch as Pannco? 'I he nuswcr
is th at the y kid 110 suc h lIlap . 'I hcv were especiall y 11 I rsurc of their position
ill the cas t-west direction becau se of the problem of uncerta in longitudes
ill thnsc d <l ~ s , _\ l or e importa ntlv. they'd heard th a t earlier a ttempts to reach
Pauucc had fa iled. with some of those involved killed b~ coas talludiaus.

Becoming Shamans: 15 34- 153 5

"lhe four Spa n iards had been slaws to coastal \-illagers, bu t their st atus
ch;mged once th c~- got " Oil the road." After spellding scnu c m unth s rega iIl-
i n~ their ph vsical strengt h ,lIl1 0 11/; the first grou p they reached. th ey p ressed
011 10 another zronp wlm rega rded Ihelll with awe and brought peop le 10 be

touche d by them. III one of the tow llS, C<lbel.;] de \'<lC;1 savs,

the \c ry n ight we arrived, SOllie ludia us ca rne to Castillo, saying their

heads hurt, and beg ging him to cure thetu. ,H lcl' he ronde the sigu of
the cross and couuncndcd them to C od . thcv sa id their pai n was gone.
'l'hcv. went buck to their hllt., und bro ught h im muuv. pric k\\-. pea rs and
<I piec e of venison. :\cws of th is sp read am ong the m, audtua uv people

caiuc that night to be c ured. Vach bro ugllt a piece of venison, and soon
Il l' had , 0 much \\T did n 't know where to pu t it! After the h e a ling,. tl, e~

be:;<lll to da nc e, and the festivities lasted un til dawn. ' I h is mcrrvruak iug,
caused bv om arrival, lasted three da ys.

After a cou ple o f weeks or fu rth e r waudcrius a nd a ua rro« esc ape \1 h ell
CahenJ d e Vaca was lost without dl ly supplies. they moved into lands w ith
more prickly p ear ca cti for food. T h e ~- were alrea dy known :I S mvstcnou-,
tr<l\-di n g slunuuns

\ l all ~- Indians t;athered . and they broug ht five peop le who were cr ippled ,
and ill po or condition. T hC\ wautccl C astillo to healthem. At sunset,
C astillo mad e the sign of the cross and couuuc udcd them to Cod. and

Copynghtad malarial
104 • C/lI.J!J/e r 3

<IS best II C co uld , II C <111 asked C ud to restore tlrcir II C<l1tII, since I lc

kncII- it II a" the olll~- wav IIrose people co uld help us cseapc from thi,,>
miserable life . C od 11<1.'1 <;0 mercifultha t on the Ilext mo m ing, the pali cIlh
awakened well. and depa rted as if they had never been sick. 'l'llis cau sed
!;reat astouisluucut all lOng the people , and It made \l.'i thank om Lord
cn thlls i a , l i l" <lll~ - fur ,11O\\' ing us II i, ki ndness, <l ll(ll;i\-ill g ns hope that l ie
would get us out to a place wher e I\T could SC rlC llun. As for H 1C, I call
sa ~ I <l1 \\'a~ s had fa ith in I lis mercy. .\ lany times I said to Iny compauiou-,
tha t llcd bring lIS 0111 of Cilpth-ity.

"lhcsc xccucx arc rct niuixccut of uo thillg le ss Hum the 0:e\\' 'Icstumcnt.
Villa gers invested grea t fa ith ill the marvelous IlC\\ teachers who a ppeared
in their m idst. For their part, the Sp.miu rd-, xccm cc] to .,tTllgglc with the role
imposed UpOll them, haloi ng some trepi da tion a bout dealing ill possi ble
dark arts. Bu t for the fi rst lill ie ill vca rs. th c~ we re begillli ing to ;11l 0\\- them-
selv es o p f III ism th<l t thcy co \l 1d Sur vi \T urnOllg th c nu kn 0\\ 11peo p les of th c
unc harted intcriur - su n 'i \T lon g enough, that is, to reach other Spaniards.
O u e oee;lsiou of heali ng 11-;lS cspcc-iullv notewor thy:

C astillo wa s a timid phv siciau, cspccia llv whe n the cases were e xtrem e.
llc tllollghl his sins would prevent a successful healing. 'l'hc Indians told
me to hca lthc m because thc\ I'ked me an d rem cmbcrcd all earl ier timr-
whe n I had helped someone feel better, . _ \V I IC Il I got to their hil ts,
aloll g with l) oraBIe, awl Estcvan , I concluded thattln- sick man I\ C we re
supposed to heal wa s alrcadv dead, because IIla llY people were \\Tcpi llg,
and hi,> lodge wus dismantled, as the sign of hi, passi ng. When I got lo
him . I S<lll h is eyc,> wen - turncd back. and he had no pulse. It seemed 10
me tha t he show ed all the "igrrs of death. Durantes agreed. I removed a
mat that COITTed hi m and besceehed om Lord to restore hi.,> healtl l and
!;Tant health to all who needed it.
After I made the sign of the cross anrl breathed 01 1 him maIlYtimex, thcy
look me to cure others who had thc slccl' ill g sickrlc'>s. 'I'hcn I l l' returncd
to our dl\Tllirrg,, _'I he lndia us who had CO II IC with Il S remained behind.

T he tra nslation as '\ I eep i n~ sickllcss" is inte resting because that I S

known t()(hJy a'i all African di seuse. spread by the tsetse ny, in \\ h icb the
victim experiences fever . headac hes. apa thy, and profound sl eepiness. In
the \I OTst cases, it ca ll be fa tal. 'I he concep t m <l~ hall' been kuown to tir e
Spaui ards aud nwy gi\'c all idea of the symp toms l h c~ wi tnessed, hilt is not
likely to have been present ill Te xas ill 1;; H - 35. W ha lc\ cT the sickness \\'a -"

Copynghtad material
The Epic 1011 mer o{ Ca bera de Vaed and Frielld.~ • 105

the villagers returned to 11 S late r tha f nigll t, s<ly ing th<lt tllc tuau who
se emed (le<ld had gOttCIl n p, wal ked, eaten. aud spoken with thcui and
that the ot heL'i had gollcn better too and were ITT;' happv ! T his caused
great 11-0 Irdcr and awe, and th TO IIgh 011 I thcla ud people spoke 0 F11 0 t h ing
else. O ur Ii/me spread. People who heard about it came lookilll; for Il S so
I\T could heal them and bless their rluldrcu.
\Vc rctu a in cd wi th t hi" group for ci gh t 111 on t IIs (not iu g th c ti 1JI c 1)\ t hc
1J\O O Il's phases) . People came 10 us .'i ayinJ; lIT IICTt' children of the S\lI L

Until lhcu, De -antes <111(-1 Estcvan the Hlaek had pe rformed 110 healing"
1,11 t f II a lly I\T all did it bcca II sc so III <lny pcop lc 1lIS istcd. \ Vc nc\ TT trca ted
<lnyollc who didn't later claim to be cured, ,JJJd thcv were so coufidcut
about our CIUC" that thrv believed nunc ofthem would die as 100 Ig a: we
rema ined umnnr; th em.

Son ic rational ists of the niuctc culh and mid-t wentieth centuries tend to
ignore or rej ect these accounts of heali ngs as impossible. An thropolog ist
Da niel Reff known for his work ou the rapid spread of European diseases
among :'\;JtjIT Am ericans in the I ; () O .~ and 1600s, suggested that the var ious
peoples met b~ C ab cza de Vaca's partv had heard about vlotczuma's fa ll a
do/ell yedrs earl ier, so their illnesses were associat ed I\il h stress an d terror,
'I hi.'i idea lll;l~- apply later, as \IT']] sec, but there is 110 evidenc e iu this part
of the tre k that the local informants knell' ,IllYthing abo ut fearfu l sh
inv aders. Rathe r, Ca bcza de Vaca's acc ount curp hasi-cs jovfu l greetings
ill this reg ion.
As mentioned earl ier, oth er twcnticth-ccuturv schola rs applied theories
of co ntextual analvsis to the fiftccuth-ccnturv rec-ords. T his involves the idea
that an individual's words cannot be understood without <I1 J<J1~' / ing influ -
enc es from his or her cu lture and ro le ill societ e. The methods arc valuable
hu t problema tic became they can devalue simple . direct observations as
useless reflections of cultural bias, II istorians ill this camp "explain all ay" the
repor ted hcaliug.~ by por traying C;lbe/;l de Vaca an d hi., fncudx as hopeless
"i cf ms () f th ci r (JIm cultura1 i1lJ agery, III I\\' itf u gl ~' rrca ti ng pall' i IJJ i ta f 0 lIS of
Hi blc stories. If this a pproach is adopted wi thout eOl IJ1 1J Oll sense, pla ill sell-
tcuccs can he dismi....~ e d :.l s svmb ol ic smoke an d cultural mirrors. III extreme
ruses, such wor k igl\ OTes the need to reconstruct what actual events. if allY,
triggeTed the desc-riptions. It ignor es, too, whn f oright be lcarucrl b~- relating
the descriptions to similar reports at othe r times ill other cultures.
'I 'be practica I application of COl ncxt ua I analy sis 10 om explorers rema ins
unclear. T ir e nirfhor] tends to produce rclativclv im penetrable acadcmcsc.
!':I'ell Rcff. all importan t rcscarc her, con eludes his 1996 arti cl e a bou t "text

Copynghtad malerial
lO() • C/lI.J!J/er 3

and con text' in the de Vaca rep ort <IS foll ows: "The challenge facing
C <I ~ C/.<I
the reader is to determine 1t0 \ 1 intcr-tcxtnalitv, brcadlv defin ed, articulates
wi th cul tural-hixtorical contingcnci cs, fucling text-for matio n processcs, T he
issue is an elllpirical one that can be resolved only ~y <lffording research
pr iority to litera ry <I S 1\c11 as cu ltural-his torical contingencies, broadf
defined : ' I thi nk th is mean s that in order to un derstand the Spaniards'
accounts, we sho uld consi der their cultura l background while evaluating
their obse rva ti on s
.\ 1:>' own conclusion is tha t the castaways' accounts <Ire more pl ain-
spoken, sobe r, ami significant than ad mitt ed by 1Ii allY contex tual criti cs.
T he uuthorx were trying to report what they experienced. W hat Illay be
important in the stories of healings is the deep role of human susccpn-
hilit!, to srr ggestion and n ain: faith. lf hihlical accou n ts, C ahcza de Vacu's
accou n ts , and T V cvauachsm <Ire viewed as antb ropoloaical documents (as
they must be ), then we have repeated indications th<l t naive onlookers, witl r
little soph isti cation about modern psycllOlog!', can be en th rall ed wh en a
cha ri smatic teacher or hcalcr CO lllCS to town. In dividuals suffering certain
ki nds of maladi es ma!' tjcclarc themselv es improved or c-ured. Ev en ill the
lwen f cth ccnturv. cc rtaill :'\ a ti vc Amcri C;] n co Illlll U ni f cs di \ idcd III aIa di cs
into "white man diseases" and "Indian diseases," i\ compound fractur ed
leg lllay benefit fr om \ Vestern medicine. but u problem rooted in p., yeho-
logical stress lll<l!' respon d better to shalll<ll lic practices f,llllili,lr within thc
couuuuuitv. C ub e-a de Vaca is \ elY clear ill describi ng tir e villagers' faith
ill the alien heale rs: tire bode's capa bilitv to cine itsel f tatleast tcmpo rarily )
is still 01 rea lm or mystery not full y clarifi ed by either west ern. Eastern. or
::'\ati\'c Amer ican medicin e. T he Joi n t Report, prepared by all fou r travelers
before Ca bcza de V,lca wrote his memoir , \\ i ~ c1 y ,11 1d wi ttily puts the who]c
case IIrt1 CIr III ore succiuctl y than mostmoderns rrright: "If tile Christians did
not c-ure all of them, atl east the Indians believed they could cu re them."
At the same ti me, Ca bcza de Vaca's gronp dealt with bloodier maladi es.
For example , C aheza de Val',l ill a later \'ill agc gil es a vivir] desc-ription of
relll()\'i n~ a bone arro whead that was lodged ill one man's chest; he made
iuci sious, removed tir e poin t, "stanched the blood JlO\\ I\ it h scraping from
a h ide," ma dc twn stitc hes, and remov ed the sti tches later.

ll ow Far lnlund >: 153 5

T he big conlrovcrx v abou t th e route ill 'I{.'xas is whe ther Cabet.a de Vae;J
and Fricndx trawled th roll~h the center-west part of the sta te or stayed

Copynghtad material
The Epic 10 11 m er o{ Cabera de VaCd and Friell d.~ • 107

ncar the coast. T his affects where th ey traveled OIKe tbcv go t into Mexico ,
whic h , ill tur n , affects 0 1lT unders tanding of la ter explorations by o ther
Sp.mia rds. A three-volume 1999 s tl1 d ~- of th e C;]hez<l de "<lea purtc by
linguist-histonaus Rolcua AdoTllo and Pa tric k Pau tz. argues for an extreme
southern rou te, fo llO\\ illl; the Culf Coast a mi cllni ll<,; west and sou th well
into Chihuahua ill a ll aborted effo rt to reach l'a uuco. I 10\\ e\'Cr, th e Join t
Report o f th e four travelers ~a:s tha t

the nanvcs tr ied hard to ta ke the Spaniards [so uth] toward thesea . . . [yn}
the Span ia rds refused to go there, T lle\ preferred going inlan d [no rth
and west] because thcv .
were disill usioned bvtlrc
. coas tal ludia n s. Also,
they had always been told Iin ord er to cross the ruuuutaius and reach
the m pposed ly richer provinces OIl the Sou th Sea] to go n ol toward
the sea bu t towa rd Illc sunse t. lhc, WCTe afraid to t r~- it and p refe rred
to go furth er inland. , . . And ill that manner tlley advanced 80 leagues
[abon t 200 to Z5() m iles], tr<J\c ling by \lay of the mnunt.r in foo thills, and
cllt crill£; tfn- inlcr ior of the land, goi ll £; direc tly tOlI ,lT<1 the nort h.

A subsequent do c ument bv an eyewitness c hronicler o f th e Coronado

cxpcditiounaurcd Pedro de Castaneda reco rded au incid en t th at happened
in 15 41 , gil'iug;] clu e a bou t their rou te . III 154 1 Corouudo's unnv camped
a t <I site ca lled Blan co C an yon , so u th of Aillarillo "It the base of the 'IC\ <J s
Panhandle . (We'll sec II l00e detai ls ill ch apter l l.] Casta neda Sd y S tha tnca r
h ere th ey were tol d tha t "Cabo-a d e \ '"Jea and Dorau tcs had passed th is
wav" .
(Flin! and 1"lill t 2005 , 409 ). ' l ite lndians pi le d up hides and othe r -~ i fts
for the Spuuiards. unr] when Coronado arriv ed with hi." soldiers, th e troops
fell on th e p ile veraci ously and stripped It to tbe ground ill Iifteell minutes.
Castaneda then describ es hOI\', a IllOI I~ the Indians. "t he worucn aud so n ic
others cried because thcv ha d believed that [th e me m b ers o f the cxpcdi-
tiou] would no t take any thillg Iroru th em , bu t would bles s [ thei r th illgs],
~]s Cubcza de Vn ca awl D oruntcs had done when they passed th ro u g h
this place " (+09) .
' these accounts sl1 ~g e s t tha t ti le C ube-a de Vaca patty trav eled into
wcst-ccnIraI Texas ius tcad of foil ow iIlg the ( : ulf C O:1.,t sou th tow ard l'uuu co.
C astan eda 's \\ordin g mak es It sound as if th e In dians ha d seen the cas taway s
at th is vcrv loca tion hu t d oes not ru le ou t th e possibility tha t the caxtawavs
ha d be en seen duri ng thc Ind ia m ' p eregrina tions fart her south , ,\ s we'H
see ill a side ba r, lndiaus ill I 5Sj at the confluence o f the Rio Craudc
andthe Rio COlldIOS, abo ut +50 ai r line m iles inland from th e coast, also
told .,tories abo ut Cabcza d e \ 'aea 's party passillg th ro u ~ h th at area. T h a t

Copyrighted malarial
lO S • C/lI.J!J/e r 3

lo cale is a bou t H O<Ii I' line miles so u thwest o f Bla nco C an yon, but the Rio
C raudc itsel f passes ,I., close as 280 ai r line miles so uth of Blan c o Ca uvou.
S in e c the e,Jsl;m'ays sa id the y iuitial lv spent som e tun c tra\Tliug due north
be fore turning \n '51, they m a~ ' han' reached points with in 200 to 300 m ilcs
of Blanco C am 011.

The Last Day• of Prehi story• in Texas: 1; )=;

T h e Cabcv a de Va ca party's reports give inv aluabl e anthro pological vie ws

of :'\atin: Americ anl ife a t tlu- t:JI(! of p rcluxtoric lime. In th e whole rt:gioll
from the C <l h cstou coast inland, <I ma n liv ed Il ith a woman "until the re
\\'as a d isagrt:clllt:n t, thou Ih t:y \Ilarry whoever t:lse tb cv please." T h is I\'a.'i
remarkable to the Spani ards, beca use prop er sexual rela tio ns hi ps ill Eu rope
h ad to be le galisti call y coufinncd and thus requi red legalistic action to
dismantle. Rela tiv el y casua l associations persisted <lTl\o ng these people unti l
child ren were born , but " thuxc wh o have c h ildrcn rem ain with th crr wi \'cs
,m d d o n o t leave th em." In cases of spousal dispu te s, fi stfig h ts co u ld e ru pt
andthen "women separa te them b~ ' cO llli nl.; between them, but thr- men
won't d o th is. A fte rwa rd , th e m en go to their ledges an d the wiv es go Ji H,'
in the wilderness until their ,lll ger subsides, after which th ey behave as if
noth ing had happened."
As for c hi ld raising, "all throug h this region , tucn don't sleep with their
wiles from th e time thcv notice they arc pre gn an t unfi] th e c h il d is lin)
~ Cll rs o ld . C hildre n nurse at the br east u ntil age lw clvc . when th ey cau
forage for food for th cmsclvcs T h ey said it \I'as be ca use of the grc<J t h unucr
ill th at la n d : '
As for o the r aspects oflife.

tllese people do n 't 1Ia\'(' any system to count time 1)\, the su n or TllOOIl,
nor do they kee p track of the mouth. 'I lley keep truc k of time by the
diHerClit seasons when fruifs ripen or fis h die , and t he~ arc \er~' skill ed lit
k1J()\\'ing whc u the differen t constellations appear. Wc all wal ked na ked
with th em, eo\cring o\lt'sch es <It night wi th dee rskins. We were IHlngry
fo r six of the e i~ ht months !
When the prickly pears ripe ned (summe r. 1 5, 5j, we m oved on , to
aunthcr gro llp ofludian s.... We still \\ elli naked ,lllihe tim e . Si nce \\e
weren't used to it, we shed om skim twice a ~rar like serpe nts. "lhc sun
and ai r cause l<l rgc sores OI l our chests and bac ks, wh ich hurt cspcciallv
because Ihe ro pes of the loads I\ C ea rned cut int o om skin .

Copyrighted malarial
The Epic 10 11 m er o{ Ca bera de VaCd and Friell d.~ • 109

As the Spaniards trekke d <lOOSS Texas and be came fam o us, the custom
was tha t a grollp from \'ill<lge A would lead th em 10 village B. Villagers <II
IL h ali ng h eard o f th e wondrous straugcrs, would m eet thc m with gi ft.'i .
C abcza de Vaca's partv then ga\'C the gi fts to the villagers from village A,
who ret u rned hom e "lhe happiest pe ople inthe world ." 'I hen.after a d <ly or
so , gui des fro m "ill age B woul d lead th em to the next town. lnthis way, the
Spaniards SOOII fou n d themselves traveling from t0111l to town with CTO\\ds
of two or th ree h undred e nthused followCTs,
'10 put th ese even ts in a larger context. C o rtes's ships in these years had
been pl ying the waters of the Cu lf of C alifonua. tryin g 10 lin d 0111 more
about th e saute la uds that Ca bcza de Vu cas gro llp Il'as approachi ng,

The Hel l ( Icard round th e \ Vorld: ca. 1535

Somewhere , probablv ill wes f 'I(.'x;].'i, after trckkillg 50 to SO leagues (12 5

to ,I S many as 2::; 0 m iles) no rth upstream along one or mnrc ri\'ers,md into
the in te rior, an :on ling to bo th the Join t Report ,Jlld C a be/a de Vaea's la ter
repo rt , th e Spa niards came to a connuunitv of fortv dwell ings , ll crc they
m el people 1\ '!t O , fo llowing the CUSIOIlI, gal e th e travelers so m a llYof their
posse.'i sions tha t the h Hlian.'i ill Ca he /a de Vaca's p,n ty could earn' only half
of them , "We told the In d ian s who h ad gilTn these th ings to tak e bac k the
remainder so it wo uld not go to waste, hu t lhey replied l h e ~ would certainly
not d o it , because it was notthei r custom to la ke ba ck so m eth in g tlle~ ' had
gi\'e ll ;m ay" - the e xact oppos ite o f the cliche of the "lndian giver."
Acc ordin g to the 154 2 auc] 1::; 55 memoirs of ( :<l be / a de Vuca , anoth er
gift soon appea red. (T h is quote and the following qu o te arc svn thcsivcd
Iroru translat ions b~' l-av ata and l-cmandc z 199 3; Pupo-Walkcr 199 \ ami
Krieger 2002. )

,\ lllo ng other th ings thcv. gme uv , ,\ Ild r('s I)or;ln les recei\ cd a hig, hea\\'.
copper bell, wilh ,I face engraved on it [sec fig. 3J. T he Indians \alll('d it
highl~', Thcv said they had acqu ired it from other 11I(IidlL'; who were their
neighbors. W bell \\T asked them II he re such a lhiug had come Iroru, 111 C"
said it had been brouqht from the no rth. and thai the re 'las milch of it
there, and it I\ as grcatl~ esteemed. And Ill' co ncluded thai ill the places
where it t-ame from there were foundries, an d lhallhcy cast metal in molds.

A rl uv la ter th e" crossed some mouutaius dud carne to another smal l

\'illage, t hi .~ time " 011 th e ban ks o f a \Tr~' beauti ful rive r,' possibly one o f till'

Copynghtad material
110 • Cha/Jfer 3

Fig ure ,. Exam ples o f cop per bells couimonlv found III prehistoric sites. Small
hells (from "Suakc town" site in south ern ,\ ril Olla ) arc aboutthe sill' of a quarter.
ill1d tIl l' larger hell. wi tll ill cis{·d decorations, is ~i1l1 ilar to the description of the
one given to Dor.mtec in west T{·xas. It was fo u nd ill a site 11l the San Ped ro Rive r
valley near Vlammoth, Arizona, IlO rth east o f'[ "IICSOll (sec m ap 10 ). Frotn site
conte xt. an-haeclcgist EuulHaury suggested this hell d ates flOl1\ ahout 1100 10
H OD, C opper au aly~i s ~u gge sts su l' h hells we re m ade \ 1 est and ~ou t lJ of \lc xlco
C ity a nd traded no rthwa rd into the Amc ricau South wcst (sec ma p l ]. Ph o to
courtcsv Ari/"Ila Sta te \!IlSCII Ill,

tu n is o f the Rio Crandc . (Beca use of its famous "big bends." th e Rio Crandc
COli ] d II avc been c rossed titree Ii III cs by IT<I \ -C ] c IS II I oviIll;; west - f rst 11 0\\ illl;;
so uth, thennorth , thcnxo u th aga in .) T h e villagers ga\-e th e m b uffalo hides,
beads, and bags e O ll tai ll ill ~ s hi n~" lIliea am] kohl , wh ieh the women used for
painli lll;; thei r faces, Cabcza de Vaca's m emoir tells us : "We showed th e m
th e be ll we were carrying, and th ey said th ai ill the rcgiou where it came
from , th ere were m any sbce t-l ike plates o f tha t m eta I bu tied ill th e g rou nd,
a th illg held ill much esteem . T h ey ulso sa id that th e ho uxcs there we re
permanent. \\"e think th e area must be on the South Sea , because we always
h eard tha t the South Sea is richer thanthe one ill the north."
T h ese st atements are m u ch m ore im porta nt tha n they 11lay seem at first
glan ce, because th ey triggered ill the minds o f the C abexa ric V<lea party

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The Epic 10 11 m er o{ Ca bera de VaCd and Friell d.~ • III

(and th eir la te r liste n ers) a vi sion of the g e o~raphy [ust uorth of their ro ute ,
'I hus, it's usefulto be as clear as possib le about what C abcza de Vaca urcant.
Fortuna tel y, \ \ T can com pa fc h is statem en ts a bove to th e te xt of th e Jo in t
Report, prepa re d by th e ca st ilw<J~ 's months after they cvt tcd the wil der ness
and availabl e ill O viedo's c o p ~ . 'I he following qu ot e is svnthcsi- cd from
translations by arc h acoloaist ,\ 1ex Krieger ill 2002 a lid his torians Basil II cd-
ri ck and Ca no11 Riley ill 1974, wi thad diti 011 aI di scussi0 ns a bo u t term i11 0 l-
ogy from C orouado scholar Ric hard nin t (priva te comnuuucu tion, 19()9).

[L hc Indians] !;a\T [them ] a copper bell and sonu- blan ket s of cotton.
'l'hcv sa id these ca rne from the nor th , tTaI'CTs ing acTOSS the land towa rd
the Sou th Sea. ' I'he nex t day j C abcza de Vaca's party cucouutcrcd other
Indians, who ] told the-m that the people who gale them the bel l had ,1
lot of thcru (or a 101 ofthat metal). even if1hc~ hadn't gi\ -Cll fln-mmun-.
T h c travele rs d educed tha t [ill th e place ] \\'here th is bell caine Irom,
though it was no t gold [or "though there n ists no gold"? ], there lI'a s a
min il1g settlement, and thc people there d id smelt il1g (althollgh by OIiT
ded uction that place 11Im t have b een Oll the coa st of the South Sca ).

' I'bis so mcwlra! o p<l qlle passage contains crucial roo ts of th e soon-to-
come Span ish expeditious o f exploration an d c-onquest from M exico into
th e .\ m ericall Southw est. 'I'he logic is dcciphcra blc by com hi II iIlg the [ oi11 t
Report willi C abcva de Vaca's memoir. The bell ca rne from a trad e cente r
north ofthe Ca bcv a de Vaca rou te ill a laud of permanent houses, So urces
of c opper were a vaila ble to those people ill SOll ie fonu, p rcsuurablv mines.
'I hcrc for c, some major ci ty in the :\'orth must have metalworke rs 'I h is
1\-<lS 110 shadowy myth of seven b ishops' cities but direct infonnntinn T h e
cop per bell was th e proo f. II was probable abou t fis t sir ed aw l sphe roidal .
with all e ngrJ.\'cd image, a d es ign popular at the time (fi g. 3), Bells of thi s
type and, cv cutuorc c-onuuon.nlcigh bell -l ike dcsi gus abou t all iuclr across
ban; [x-cu found bv mod ern arehaeol ogist.s in late prehistoric \illage "iles
th rou gh ou t wide area s in :'\ e\\- ,\ ! exil'o , Ari /ona, and Son o ra , as described
by archaeologist V ic toria Vargas , 199 5,
C omh illill g th e accounts abov e with \\ hdt we know turlav, II-e infer th<l t
C a bcza de Vaca 's pa rty I\-<\Sin west Texas wh en thee were gi\Tll the bell an d
that the bel l cam e from ouc of the p ue blos to the nor th, ill 1\ C \\ Vlcxu-o.
Furthermore , the lu di.m testimony tha t th e metal 11-<l S easily fou n d in the
gr ound was 1101 far-fetched. As 1\<lS 10 be disco vered h ~ ' lat er Spaniards ill
the 1700s, th e SOlitIm est was full of var ious orcs tha t ill reality IIH e m m tl ~
uncxploitcd by the :\atiH' l\ m eric;m s. T h e sta te o fA ri/ on <l \\ as I ram cd fo r

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112 • C/lI.J!J/e r 3

suc h a mine at "Anzonae," 011 the So n ora border , wh e re silv er was found ill
173 Glying ill large pie ces OIl th e ground. Si m ilarly, as we 'll sec ill a side bar
ill cha pter +, pieces o f raw e opper we re proba bly known at C;JS;].'; Cran des,
a nmltisforv pueblo From th e 1200s tha t is llO\\" "I \n~ ' impressive min just
sou th of the S e\\ Mexico bo rde r ill C hi h u ahua.
T h e next ste p ill th e castawa ys' logic was their belief th at th e coa st o f
the Sou th Sea (the Pacifi c) had tow ns richer than the uuscrablc \il1ages
;llong th e coas t of the C llif of 'vlcxico (T his \\';L~ tr u e ill .\l ic hoadn .) If
the copper bell ca m e h om a prosperollS area to the north, then the Pa cifi c
coast itself, or some inlet of it, must curv e around to the north of where the,
were loca ted . T h is see m ed n o t unlikely. After <l11, if .vl cxiro was another
Caribbean island off the coast of Cathav. Ii kc Cu ba am i perhaps La Florid a,
th en th e ,~e;J C O;Jst mu st curve ;JtOlI I H I to the Borth , l ien ee , ( :abe za de Vac;{'i
party deduced that so m e wealthy Jlletah\,(H kin~ urban ce nter lay ncar the
Paci fi c coast, north of th eir route. As v cll sec il l the next chap ters, th ei r
deduction (alt ho \lgh highl~' incorrect] had importunt cunscqucm'cx.

i\ long the Rio Gra nde: 153 5

Cub cza de Vucu claims tha t thcy soo n had three to four thousand people
tran'ling with the m , but due to th e apparent sixtcenth-eentrlT~' idiomatic-
S pan ish exaggeration of large numbers . we might guess the numbers were
closer to three or fo ur hundred .
T he travelers reporte d crossing sev eral la rge rivers ill the n ext days, aud,
;J.~ usual. it's hard 10 tell exactly whut rivcr is being described in any l,;i\'Cll
instance. T h cy were apparently ill the \'ieillity o f the Pec os Rive r and the
Rio C raudc, approaching th e urountaiuous cou ntr y (probable lire Fort
Davis .\ l o 11 11 ta ills; _~ce map 6). III this area, th ey en coun tere d IlC \\' tribal
gIOUpS, one of wh om, unlike tire celebrating villagers who greeted thcru ill
west-central Texas, we re dowucust about th eir unival . "So great \\'as thei r
fear that durin~ the fi rst days \H' were with them, they were al\\'a~'s trcm-
bling , witho ut da ring to spea k or raise their eyes." These people seem 10
have been close to the Rio Crandc, .<'0 that in this case \ \ 'C can adopt Rc ff"s
1996 hvpothcsis tha t th ey lllay havo heard th rou!;h th e Rio C rallr! e grape-
vine a bou t the Sp<lllish invasion to the so u th , Cnzlldn\ m en in Pa uuco
had heard rumors o f the Rio Grande pueblos, and irs li kclv tha t news
traveled both \\ ays along IIrc riv er (sec IIlap I). T h u s, villagers along the
Rio C randc vallcv Ill:Jy have heard aLlrmillg news abo II t <lgWessi\'C .~ lr a l l ge r.~
to the snuth

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The Epic 1011 mer o{ Ca bera de VaCd and Frielld.~ • II ..

Xoucth clcss, these p eopl e guided them on til rough 50 leagu es (J 25 10

155 miles) of cmptv plains uud ac ross m~gerllll0\lll t a illS nntilthcv even-
tuall v n :aeh ed;J I ' illa~ e Oil what seems to hav e beet 1 th e Rio Cran d e. h om
tha t poin t 011 , some of the people who had come Ivith tln-m began to fa ll ill
fro m hunger and the di ffi cu lties of crossing th e rugged mountains.

\ Vc told [the \illagers] I\T wanted to go toward the sunset. hut thcv said
there wer e no people ill that di recti on for a lon g II UY. \ Ve tol(1 them to
se nd messengers [,1long llie best route ] to announce li e II Qnld come,
but thcv d eclined, bec ause , a" best we coul d understand, those people
were their enemies . Still, they didn 't wa nt to disobey us, so thcy sent two
IYOmell, since wO lne n e<lll Ilegotialc e\Tn during <I I\'ar. .. , After thcv
WCf C gone fiv e d ays, the local In dians said they must not have fo und
am one.
\Ve proposed they m igh t lead us north, but tlley said there we re 11 0
people ill that direct ion either, c.\ce pt far alia;', uudthcrc wax n o good
food or water Oil that route. We insisted. l h e~ refused , and we became
;Illg r~·. One of those n ights [ wcut o ut to sleep o n 1lI~ 0 1\ 11 , and th ey
became l ery Fear ful, and carne uut to spcud the n igllt whe re I wa, beg-
ging II' n ot to he ang r\' auvtun rc , aud saying Ihn"d take uv, e\T II th ollgh
they thouqht they mig ht die ulong the \\U;- .

C abcza d e Va ca S<l\ S the h rdiau s \\'ho were to lead them (p erha ps a!rea dy
I\Cah'IKd by h unge r) became so upset that ma llY fell ill , and at some point,
cigh t died. Afte r rel a tions improved. those vhn were sti ll ill recu pe rat ed.
Re ga n li ll ~ th c tra vel clircctions, we e81 1llI8kc sense o f the Illdia llS' rcluc-
tancc to go IH'St or north , 1\ journey IH'St wou ld take them into the ru gged
mountains of the Sierra M a dre ill M exico , ass hewn inruap t.. And ifthcv
tried to go north to th e big p uc blos no rth of modern Albuquerq ue. t bc ~
wou ld encount er a stretch a lo ng the southern .\ e\l .vl cxi co Rio C ra ndc so
ba rre n thu tlutc r Spanish rolouiul settlers cullcrl it the "[ onru cv of Death."

" Perm an en t H ouses": Late 1535

As thc travel e rs p repared to 1e<J \ T , th e wome n scou ts returned I\'ith news

of perlll a n en t sc ttl ctu c n Is, <I S op posed to seas onal h11n f u g-ga th cri ng e atu p-
sill'S. ' I he new settlements \\ ere 011 a riv e r where people h ad beans. squash .
and buffalo-skin blan kets, tlloug h 11 1<111\' of them hurl gOllc to hun! buffalo.
E ste\'all ami C astill o set out to inu:st igate: "Casti ll o carne back and sa id

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The Epic IOI/mey or Cabeso de Vaca ([lid Friends • 115

Figll re "1. House o f" mat constru cl io II ," rcscm hli ng: .1 construction sty[c dcscri hod
hy C <l he/ a de \,.I<<I's party alotl~ the maize route in SOllora, It is more substantja]
thau wha t they ha d seen on the plaiuv ofTexav. Mats of woven reeds, (,KhIS
nbs, or similar material were alt'lched to a fram ework o f posts, and th e homes
typic<I]]Y had fl at roofv, as in this e S<llll plc . "Pc nnanont" housc-, that impressed
C il hc/ il de \'ilCil's I'il rty were simitn hu t pl.e-tered over with adobe. 2002 photo
hy the author, showiug uu iucligcnous example in northwestern SOllora , south of
San Luis Oll the commun.rl fa rm Ejido Johnson . 'vlodc m ma t construction oftell
us<;s '([<lp plywood , shee t rock , <111<.1 even (ardho<lrd.

hc'd found real and permanent houses. with peopl e who ate beans and
squash, and tha the had seen maize. In the whol e world. this \\<1 S the thing
th;Jt made us th c happ iest, and we ga\'e infinite thanks to our Lord."
T he cnstawavs moved 011 to join these people. C a bc za de Vaca reported,
chanuingly, that they had "th e first houses we saw that really look cd li ke
houses" (fi g. -1- ), 'I he discovery of "permanent hOllSCS" was important. I II
Ihis locale, "permanen t houses" probably re ferred no t to mul tistorv pucb-
los, as ill central 1\'C\ \ ' Me xico, but to simpler, onc-storv, fla t-topped struc-
tures. oftcn with mud-plastered or ado be walls, , IS oppo sed to the simple,
thatch-like brush hil ts they had sccu ea rl ier. "l'c rmancntho uscs" signified
10 the Spania rds th:l t lhcy were reaching lands with more cultured peop le.
Per ha ps they we re getting: closer to the lands conquered by Cor tes ,

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11r, • C/lI.J!J/e r 3

T ile inha bitants liv ed no t in transien t e <lm ps bu t ill rel ativel y fixed se t-
tlct uc nts, ~ro\\"ill~ co rn an d couuuunica tiug -vi th the bu ffalo hnutcrs of
the pla ins , 'I h e C;J.~ ta\Y<l~'-s we-re now ill au area later called La [un ta (the
[unc-lion o r ll1eetill~ area) n ca r modem Pre sidio , ' Ibas (sec lllap (»), \\ he rc
the Rio COIKllOs fl ows 0111o f e llilluaf ua into lir e Rio C randc, \\ hich fo nus
the ' lcvas-Chilmahua bo rder. Archaeological an d hist oric evidence cou-
finus that La junta \\'as <JII area o f \illa~e s with more su bstantial structures
th an th e trave lers !J;Jd cncoun tcrcd so far (sec th e sid ebar "Con firming the
Cabo- a de Vaca Ro u te fr om Records in 1581 and 158)"; see also Ham-
moud and Rev 19()() , 7\ footnote 2). III Ihal area, II rc castawavs said lir e
people we re th e "liveli est an d m ost skilled , with th e b est p hysiques we ha d
sccu. thcv understood and answered om questions best."
As \\T rea d Ca be/;l de Vaca. first d h llogra phcr of th e Americ-an \\ 'est, we
see hi,., wo\\ i tl~ interest ill th e r,lllge o f differen t [m ura u Ii\'ing conditions.
l ie reported Iha t ill the first of these riverside villages . the t u cu wa lke d
around totall y naked, as ill carl ic r villages. b u t th e women and som e of the
olde r men covered them seh-es \\i th deerskins. "Their \\'a ~' of cooki ng is so
nov e l 1 want to rec ord it h ere:' "lh c v wctc " too p rimitive to have cooking
pots ," butthey pu t water in a la rge go urd , heated rock s ill th e fire, dropped
the rocks into the go urd with wooden 101lgs, and co oked ill th e go urd. " It
call he xccu," says a m a n 'c1 ill ~ C ah e z,l d e Vaca, "h O\I' diverse aIHI .,trange
a re the devices andmeth ods o f differe nt human beings."
T h e travelers referred 10 the se people <IS th e "C ow People" be cause Ih e~
bunted "cows" Oil the phr ins an d gan' the castaways lWII 1Y "co whides." III
these passages, lir e Spa n iards used their word WJC( /, or "C()\\ ," since they ha d
n o better word for the animals th ey we re h em ing a bout.
I t ll'illg h it th e Rio G ran de, the cas taways were 110\\, ellcol1l1lcri ng
scttlcru cuts 011 a river tha t, upstrea m , bo rde red the buffalo couutrv (sec
map CJl. T h e people gre\\ com ill agricultural fiel ds und tra ded I\'ith the
more umuadic b uffalo bunters outhc plains 10 the casI of the Rio Crandc
(p crhups also to th e west}. III lc un yea n these riverside villugcr-, them selves
we nt out Oil th ei r own foravs to hun ! buffal o tha t approached the river.
Cabo- a de Vaca rep orted 111<1 1 fo r 50 leagu es (1 2 510 15:; miles) northward
:]Ion~ the ri ver, th ere WC1"e people who liv ed tha t \\'a~'. T h is mi gh t refer to a
stre tch [rom the I,a Ju n ta area to modern r l l1aso or Las C ruces (sec lllap 6 ).
T h e p eop le were not gH)\\'ing com th a t ye:.n. T h ey explaine r! tha t th ey
had been throu gh lin ) yea rs \\'ith out go od rain and had to S<1 \T th eir seed
sup ply untilthe, were assu red o f a rai ll ~ ~ ea r \li lh goo d pla n lillg p rospe cts .
'I ' h e ~' asked th c Spani ards to interced e \\i th the heavenl y pO\\eLS and hrillg
them ruin. T h e caxtawavs noted tha t th e villagers did h'l \T some ma i/e .

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The Epic 1011 mer o{ Ca bera de VaCd and Frielld.~ • 117

\V here did they <;et il? ' I'l le answe r was that th e close st sources were toward
the wcst -cthc direction th e trav el ers now wanted to ~o: "\Ve asked thcu r
the best \\"ay to get to the we ste rn rna izc c-onutrv. 'Ib cv dC.'icribe d the ro l l tc,
but said thcv did n' t want to go themselves. First \ \ 'C wou ld need to go u p
the ri ver to th e north, for I ) 10 17 days, " hell Ill' wou ld fi nd uothiug to cat
exce p t <I fru it they called chacon, whic ll yon ha d to grind between stones ,
ami even aft er this treatme nt it I\'a.' barely ed ible: ' T he lack of food along
the \I'ay \\'a.'> probably aggr;J\'ated b ~' the recent drou ght.

\\'e stavc cl there two da vs, di" cuss ing what to do, F iu <ll h I\T decided to
go look for th e m aiz c, hccuusc II C didn't want to go Lu th er north in to the
buffalo couutrv. which sccmccl o u t of O UT \\' <1 \ '. •. . ' 1 he fea rs tl ley tried
to instill in us we re no t eno u gh lo dete r \IS fro m th e d iffi c u lt jo ur n ey.

SIDEBAR : Confirming the Cabeza de Vaca Route from Records in

1581 and 1583

To help confirm t he location of Cabe za de vaca's party, we apply our rule that any
docum ent is best interpreted after comparison w ith ot her, relate d docum en ts. In
th is case we can do some sleuthing w ith ac counts from later expeditio ns. The
fi rst known expedition rnto the La Junta-EI Paso area (map 61 after Cabeza de
va ca's party was led by a priest named Agust in Rodriguez, w ho came north from
Mexico in 1581 wi th eleven other Spaniard s and about sixteen Nati ve Americ an
serva nts. Documents of t his expedition w ere published and analyze d by Berkeley
historia n Geo rge P. Hammond, w orking w ith Indiana linguist Agapito Rev, in 1966.
The expeditio n left a Spanish frontier out post an d traveled through Chih ua hua,
downstream on the Rio Con ches to t he RIO Grande at La Junta, the n upstre am
and north. northw est past EI Paso to the Pueblo count ry near Albuquerqu e
(w hich had already been reached in 1540 along a different route by Coronado,
as we'll see later].
One chro nicle of t he expedition desc ribes " permanent houses" rn the area
of La Junta. They w ere square, apparently one story high, built w ith forked posts
supporting a f lat roof wi th "ti mbers t he thic kness of a ma n's thigh," and stake d
wa lls plaste red with mud. (I magine a structu re like that in figure 4, but plastered
over w ith a t hick mud, or so-ca tted puddled aoobel Th e inhabitants stoo d on t he
rooftop s to welcome t he Spaniards (Hammond and Rey 1966,75). Such houses,
and the refe rence to "fields." flesh out t he nat ure of t he " permane nt" settle ments

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11S • C/lI.J!J/er 3

I ,' i r~ t I\T wal ked uiuc da vs IIp tIle rive r, I\'<l lkill l; all da v. \Try 1'lll1l;ry. \ Vc
found vcrv few people aloll~ the tra il; we were told most of the peo pl e
h<J(1 ~o ll e to hU1I1 buffalo . ,\ , IIC tralcled up the riv e r, tile fell' peo ple
ga\c us 1n,lIly buffalo hides and <I kill d o f seed o r fru it picked From trees
!;rolllld bctwccu stones in to a ~ plill te[\, poo r un-a] . It was \TfY poo r awl
\IT d id not ca t it, ~t i ck i nl; instead to om OWII rafious c-.a handful of deer

fa t that \\T tr ied alway" to kee p Oil hand for cllllTg ellei e ~ .

desc ribed by Cabeza de Vaca arou nd La Junta: stable commu nities raising mod-
est crops but also dependent on buffa lo products.
The Rodriguez expedition then procee ded upstream on the RIO Grande, prob -
ably followinq t he Cabe za de Vaca route and t hen going beyond it to the north.
The ir account indica tes t hey went tw enty days up t he river th rough about 80
leagues 1200 to 248 road miles) of deserted country, past El Paso, perhaps to the
regio n of modern Truth or Consequenc es, averaging 10 to 12 miles a day, an easy,
plausible rate The empty country matche s w hat t he locals had told Cabeza de
Va ca. "Fa rthe r up t he sa me river" t he Rodriguez pa rty came to what seems to
have been the southernmost multistory pueblo. It was orlly an abandoned ruin
but a co mp lex three stories high. It was identified by Hammond and Rey {1966,
171 , footnote 35l as a ruin sti ll know n today, about halfw ay betwee n Socorro
and Trut h or Conseque nces, The next daythey fi nally came to the southe rnmost
active three -stcrv pueblo, near So corro, The inhabitants had fled, however, no
doubt reca lling t he problems with the Co ronado army of 1540-42, as we will dis-
cover in later chapters. Cabeza de vaca's party turned w est before reac hing the
multistory pueblos.
A more provocative account of this area comes from an expedi tion in 1583 1ed
by Antonio Espejo. a wealthy explorer f rom Mexico City, Espejo led a sma ll ba nd
including fourteen sold iers and a priest along roughly the same route as t he 1581
Rodrig uez expedition, followmq the Rio Co nchas to La Junta and then north along
t he Rio Gra nde (see map 61, They des cnbe d La Junta clearly as "the junction of
t he rivers called Del Norte and Conchas, along w hic h we were t ra velmg" l Ham.
mond and Rey 1966, 160l, Interestingly, they rega rded the Rio Grande as a t ri bu -
tary of the Rio Conchos rather than vice versa , After all, if we amve w he re two
major fivers join, how do we define which one should be calle d t he "t ributary"?
For the first tw elve days north along the Rio Grande they found Indians settled
both in grass huts and in mo re substantial-fookinq Hat-roofed houses- confirming
the "perma nent houses" of the Cabeza de Vac a and Rodri guez parties in that area ,

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The Epic 1011 mer o{ Ca bera de VaCd and Frielld.~ • 11 9

At the end o f ab out 15 ur 17 davs , we crossed mer to the west sid e and
set ou t ill th e dire ction of the sunset, t ra \ 'cl i ll ~ another 17 to 20 days or
mOTC t h ro\l~ h pbins ;J nd high mouutuius [m ap 6J, Ou the Il a y \IC found
som e people who, for Four Illon th s of the yca r, ha w' Ilothing to cat bu t
powdered straw-l ike rucaljuicsquitc fl o ur" ]. \\'e ha d to cat it too , u ntil
the cud uf that wcstwa rd jOllrney, beca use I\ T passed rh rou gh duri Ilg tIle
difficult season.

One chronicler mentioned that some of the houses w ere ~ hal f under and half above
qround" l Hammond and Rey 196 6, 162). Twelve days could cover about 150 to 210
miles, wh ich w ould bring them fro m La Junta upstream to the region of EI Paso or
Las Cruce s. He re, people came out t o greet the Es pejo party, bringing food and
hides. Es pejo himself reco rded that "the hides are f rom hump-backed cows, which
they call civcla. w hose hair is like that of cow s in Ireland, The natives dress the
hides of the se cow s . . . making shoes of th em [and] usmq them fo r cloth es, These
Indians appear to have some knowledge of our holy Catho lic fai th, as they point to
god our Lord, looking up into the heavens. They call him Apalito. . . . Many of them,
men, w omen, and children, came to have th e priests and other Spaniards bless
them, w hich made them very happy" (Hammond and Rey 1966, 217).
We don't have to speculate about the source of t hese Christian Ideas, and it
w as not just the Rodriguez party. Espejo hands us a smoking gun ! "Ihav to ld us,
th rough t he interpreters, that t hree Ch ristians and a Negro had passed throug h
th ere, and by the indications, t hey appeared to have been Alvar Nunez Ca beaa
de vece. Oorantes, Ca stillo Ma ldonado, and the Negro w ho all [had come! from
Florida" (Hammond and Rey 1966, 21n He re is direct proof that Cabeza de vaca's
party passed along this stretch of the Rio Grande upst ream to the area of EI Pa so,
As Espej o's party left this area on the river, they remarked on the f riendly innab .
it ants: ffWe met ma ny Indians {w ho) brought us many things made of feat hers of
different colors, and some small cotton ma ntles, st riped w ith wh ite and blue, like
some t hey bring from Chi na."
Even in the 1580s belief persiste d that if explorers could tr avel far enough to the
northwes t, they w ould connect w ith China, Eventually, the Espejo party reac hed
not China but w hat wo uld become Albuquerque, wh ich was then the area of pros-
perous multistory pueblos that had been explored by Coronado in the 1540s
These acc ounts, four dec ades aft er Cabeza de v aca. confirm not only th e
castaways ' location on the Rio Grande south of EI Paso but also t he t rade in
prized items made in t he pueblos, such as cotton fa brics.

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120 • C/lI.J!J/er 3

I"i ll<llly, I\ T cam e to anothcr Jand w i I II penll GIll ell t II0 uses II here much
m aize \\'Gl S stored, and they ~GlI C u > ~ r e <lt (1 1I<ll ltiti es of it, <1 11(1 its flour,
along with squa sh unr] he;lm und CO ltO Il hLm kcb , \ \'c ga\t' it all to the
people 1I'Il o had bTo ugl lt us here, and they returned 10 tln-ir lands. the
happiest people ill the world. \Ve ~a\c thanks to C od om Lord fOT bri ll~­
illg us there, whe re I\T found so ll ilieh rood .

Once C aheza de Vaca'x parfvlc ft the Rio Crallde ncar 1<:1 P'J.~o und headcd
west , t h c ~' went (in OIl C versio n} "tnun- than a 20-day journey . . . across
hunger-stri cken couutrv," where they "rested sometimes" aud had herb fl ou r
;m t! "munv [ac krubbits" for fo od , T hat jOl1T IH:y, west From the river. is indeed
diffi cult. 'Il:l modern trav elers by auto or train it is a fl at, .vidc-opcn, ami
poorl v w gelated streic h along In lcrst;JIc 10, past DClllilll; und Lordsburg.
::\'e\\' Vl cxico. III OIl(' trav erse by car , I I\'<l Sstopped [or half an hour or so by
a dust storm opaqu e and gritty enough 10 force traffi c off the road.

SID EBAR: Checki ng Cabeza de Vaca's M i leages

As us ual, we want tc com pa re Ca beza de vac e's re ported traveltimes with mile-
ages on todav's ma ps. For examp le, their fiftee n. to seventeen-day trek up the
Rio Grande from La Junta to El Paso would cover ro ughly 225 road miles, only
13 to 15 miles per day, a relatively easy rate If we start themfro mfarther south,
in Big Bend National Park, the modern road mile age would be about 2BOmiles,
giving a still reasonable tra vel rate of 16 to 19 miles per day on average. El Paso
got its name, of course, because it was "The Passr-c-the best way to cross the
Rio Grande and proceed west across the Continenta l Divide.
The se cond stretch lasted seventeen to twenty days, or "more tha n a 20 day
[cumev" (Joint Report), west fr om the Rio Gra nde to th e beginning of what they
called the "maize road." As documented in cbapter s, thi s maize road was alm ost
certainly a north- south rou te, perha ps including part of the north-flowi ng San
Pedro Rive r in southe rn Arizona and then along the south-ftowinq Rio Sonora
thro ugh the northern half of the Mexica n state of Sonora. IH erc, in 153s---42 the
Co ronado expeditio n found not only a lone-used north- south trade route but also
a town that had been visited by Ca beza de Vac a.] The road mileage on the mod-
ern 1-10 route, west from EI Paso to the San Pe dro Va lley and then a few miles
south to the headwaters of the Rio Sono ra, is ab out 290 miles, Allowing seven-
tee n to twenty-two days of travel from the Rio Grande to the maize road would
thus imply an average travel rate of 13 to 17 miles per day-ve ry reasonable.

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The Epic 1011 mer o{ Ca bera de VaCd and Frielld.~ • 121

TllTl1 itl g Sou th along th e J\ la ize Road throu gh Son or a:

Late 1535

the castaways were filIally mOl'illg south, in the fertile vallcv of the
:\ 0\1 '
south-flo wing Rtc Sono ra between pine-topped , six- to eight-thousand-foot
mountain n dacs 011 ei the r si de. T his beaut iful \'all e~' still defi nes a ma jor
route th rough central S OIl OT<I . Here they found \illages \\ ith irrigated ,
eOfll-p rodlleillg fields, dotted alollg an idylli c river, sh;H led by c-ottonw ood
trees. V illage rs raised abundantmui-c and lived ill brush hou ses, along
with a fewmor e pcnnaucut earth-plaster ed struct ures, the most substantia l
that the Spaniar ds ha d see n,
C 01ll lJ illillg the description of th is TOn tc iII the Join t Repo rt \\ith Cabcxa
de Vac;/s la ter memoir ami s ~' Il th e si / i ll g xcv cra] truuvlutiunx, we have the
folloll'inl!; accou nt of what the castaways S,]\\ ':

the hO I L'>C S SO\llC we re made of ad o be-like curt h, and a il lhe

; \ lllOllg
others were made of reed mats. From thi , poin t \ I e \ITnt 011 for SO to
IOU leagues [200 to 1 10 m iles, south ], and \IT alvuy s found pcnuan cut
houses aud good sllpplies of II\<l i/ e and beans , Ln :ry tI\ O or three da vs
\\ T arrived in a rowu aut] would rest a day or two ill eac h one."] hcv gaIT

nx mea t from m am deer, along \Ii th cotton hlaukcts fi ller than th ose of
\CI\' Sp<lin . 'I hcv al,o l;<l\T us beads . corals from the SOllth SC<l, and fine
turqu oise, tha t t hey han', which come to the m from the north. Peo ple
carne fr01l1 10 to 12 1e<l l.;lles [25 to 36 m iles] to sec IlS ,

III ] Sl)O the S\\'iss Amerieall ielTehaeolof;ist ;]Il d ethnologist Ado lph
Ba ndelier described mauv. ru ins in tile Rio Sono ra vallcv. . and ncarlv a
ccntnrv later, in 1988,' l cxas a rchaeologist W illiam 1)001iIIIe pll hlish ed the
fir st det ailed slHley of archaeological sites <llon g the Rio Sonora , Studying
village site.s tho ught to datc from the 1400s ilIld I ;() Os, I) oolitt1c COl lei udcd
that the \\I llll hers of small \'i]]agcs atHI SCI'Cra lmajor towu s in the vu llc v a m i
the c oustructiou stvlcs of bu ildings matche d tII c dcscripti ons of the Cabcza
de Vaca pa rtv and th e later C oro nado expedition ,
As Ca bCl<J de V;le a's parh mov e d sou th from tOWII to town . thcy were
still he iug accompanied by c row ds of local \illagcr;;, 11111\\herillg ~J h undred
or more.

All these people came to li S to be tou ched and sigucd with llle cross. ' ]he~
were so insistent that \\'C fou nd it ha rd to cope with thc ru. Sick or well,

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122 • C/lI.J!J/er 3

thcv all wanted Ii'>to make the sigll of the cross ov er th em. O c ca sionally,
the lI'OIlICII who I\TrClra\Tlilig with us ga\T birth. and they wo uld bring
lIS the b;lbl ,ISsoon as it was born, to have lIS touch it and siglJ it witb the

cross.'! hcv'd go with us until they turner] I1S O\Tr 10 others (Fromthe IIC"t
I'illages). T Iley were all couviucrd we had cmuc from heaven.
Fo r cur part, I\'C behaved toward tllcm witll llltl(:h gral'ity. 'Ie) prc,enc
their im pression, I\T spo ke little. Whcu we wen- with tIICJlI, I\'(,'d mardi
all day until C\cnil1g, II ith out caling, and Ill' ate so little that thcy wer e
astonished. 'Lln-vnc . vcr observed 11) to get .
tired, because \I C were so used
to hardsh ips that I\T didn't feel ally fatigu e. Estcva n the bl ack talk ed with
th C11l inccssa 111 11-, fi lid ing out Ih c ro tI tc s IIe I\' a utc d, <.I nr] II' hal 101l1lS II ere
there and whatever I\T lI'anted to knoll'. \Vc found 1IIaJl~·langllagc .>, yet
IIC alwavs munaacd to understa nd each other . Indians who were at war
wOlild qnicklv become fricnd, so Ihe~' could come and greet us and bring
us thiugs , so that \IT left th e whole land at peace,
\ Ve explained to th em t ha t th ere W<.IS <.I JIl;Jn ill h ea ven whom Ill'
called C od, who had created heaven and earth, thatH e was our lord and
tHO\ idcdall good thillgs, so thu t IIC did " hal lie eO l1l1lla ndcd - and that
if they too would do thi" tlu-vd be better off.'! he~ had sncb a disposition
to believe. tha t if ollly I\'(,'d Ilad a langu age to understand each other
pcrfcctlv, we'd h;JIC left them <.I II Ch ristians. Fromthen 011, whcuIhcx uu
rose. they held lip their joined hands to hC,I\('11 and then passed them all
OITr their bodies, 'Ih cvd do the sa me at sunset. "lhcv arc a well-di sposed
people, intelligcnt , awl apt to follo ll ,11ly doctrine if it is well prepared.

Di scoverin g the C atc wa,- Settlem ent of C orazon cs:

Dece mb er I ,; 35

' Ioward the sou th end of the maize road, somewhere ill central Sono ra . the
tra velers C,lJJ1e to a pTo s p ero \ l.~ commuuitv tha t was to be come ,J key to later
northern explora tion, It \\',IS oftell referred to bv a si11~le name, but the Join t
Re port sa ~s that it was a cluster of three \ill<l ~ es, presumab ly ill a localized
seglllel 1t of the river \ alley, [ II th is counnuui t~', suys Cahczu de Vaca, "th e~
~~I\'e III e lil'e iHTO\\ Il('ads m ade o f C111er;]ld-Iike stuu c, \d th such arrows they
pcrfcn» con-monies ami dances Snrcc the y seeme d so line, I u.'iked where
they got them . 'I hcy said they were bro ught from high nmun lains towa rd
tile north , where thcv bou ghl lhe m ill c \ e bangc for parro t feat hers. T h e ~
sa id there wert.' tOlUIS there that had [ IIUIl~' people am] \cry large huuxcs."
(,[,h i.'i quote an d the nex t quote a rc a .'iyllthesis o f trallslatiolls from Krieger
2002,22 5; and l'u po-Walk cr 199:;, IO-t.)

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The Epic 1011 mer o{ Ca bera de VaCd and Frielld.~ • In

Ca bcza de Va ca goes Oil to de scribe the dress and habits of th e peop le.
T he ac counts reveale d two c xcituu; things. First , the earl ier indications
,- "

of a lmge m ilan tr;Jdi ng c enter in the X orth \\ T Te tril l'. Second, th e infor-
mants kne\\' ,I trade route that led to that province. T h e ~ ' said they traded
bright- colored macaw feathers. \l hiclJ came from th e south, to th e north-
eruc ts. who prized them for ccrcru ouics. Dcscrib uu; ti le conuuunitv where
they w ere staying, C allen de Vaca wrote:

In the same village, thcv gave D c rantcs more tklll ()OO opened hearts of
de er, which they alwavs have ill abuudaucc fo r their fo od. SO \ \T eillled
th is low n C(J rt1Z(J III',~ [C: or-<l-Z() :\ E-a cc, \I' it It a s] ig ht roll 0 f the r, III cuu ing
"heart; " in Spanish 1.
, \ III 0 ng th c In dium ;11ong this mu i I Cmilt c 1\ c sa-v IV 0 III cu 111 nrc lllodestIy

dre ssed than ill an~ other part of Ihe Indies wcd seen. ' 1 I I e~ wea r cotton
shifts thai reach to their knees . an d O \ TT them a tunic with half-sleeves . with
skirb of d ressed dccrvkin that touch th e groulld . 'I'hey soap these with a kind
of roo I that kee ps lhctu clean.and thcvarc vcrvwcl l kept, opcn ill Frontand
tied with thon!,:s. 'I hey II'C<l r shoes. . ..
Cera-cues is the gatc\\'il~' to m<lll~' provinces Oil thc South Sea. If those
tril\Tlill g toward the provinces on the South Sea do not take the route tllTongll
here (or try to truv c] along the coast instead), thcv II ill be lost, for there is no
111ai/c on l hc coast. ,\ s for food 011 the coast . they have only flo ur made from
rushes an d grilSSl\', along with fish th c~ ta ];c from the seil ill ra fts . 'Ihcv ,HC too
primiIivc to han' canoes. 'I'Ill': 1\ U1l1 ell aI0 Ill; III c coast cover rh cir privatepa rt,
only with grilss a ut] straw. Th e ~' arc \ TTY till lid and dejected, Hut along th e
mui/c Wille that 1\ c found , we believe the re arc mo re than a thousa nd league,
or popu lated r-nun trc: with good supplies of food . for the people SO Il beans
and maize three rimes a vcar. "! here arc pe rm ane nt houses as well ilS three
kinds of elect, andthose of 0I 1e kind are as largc as \earling hulls in Caslile.

'lbc fa ct tha t Coruztmcs mcuus "hearts" is u seful to know. l\ ccortl in g to

111~' not-qu itc -scicn ti fi e su TI-cy of th e pop ular musi c played in the \1 cxican
rest aurants th at I colonized duruu; lit e writing of this book. c ora;:611 is lite
111os1 important of all words. 1':I T r ~ t h in g is about /IIi cordzrln {mc c cor-a-
ZOi\ E j- m y heart.

Locat in g Corazon cs, an d \\l1Y It M atters: Col , 1535

'I he loca ti on of ( ;OTa/OllCS is critica] to the rest of our storv. In accord wi th

Ca bcza de Vaca's rep ort, it was a significant locale, or jun cti on, 01 1 III C

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124 • C/lI.J!J/er 3

prehistor ic trade route thro uah SOIHHa to th e m ysterious trade ce nter in

th e X or th. ' lit is is tile \ery route Oil wbich Coronado's gr alld army woul d
march a fc\\ - n :<.JT.s Liter into th e western heartlands of wha t is 110\\ - the
United States. C oronado's expedition considered C (H<I ZOlleS such a kc ~ '
locale tha t th e ~- established a base ea mp the re . If we cou ld locate Cora-
voncs, we'd have a fulcrum tha t could gilt' u s leve rage to reco ns tructno t
ollly the p re h istor ic trade ro u te but also Cabcza de Vaca's whe reabouts
and Coronado's g;nri soll _The location is a coutrov crxial mvvtcrv. \ \'e 'l1
pos tpo 11 c fur th cr dise IISS i 0 II a bo 11 t I hc Ioc iI ti Oil uu ti I we desert be th c "JTTiI-a I
of th e Coronado expedition in chapter 8.

Another View of C ora zones: 1535- 1550s

T h e crusading priest, Barto lome de C asas, collected ad dition al ill for-
mation about nor th ern :\lcxieo ill his massive historical volumes Ilisiorr
or (he In dies and Ap%f',eiic 1 lt.~ l o n ' or the (;o/lqlle"t or lit e f ll d ie8. fi n ished
(wh cu he was in h is e ighties) aroun d 155 7-62 , T he second ti tle did not
re fer to ,H I a pology for the European in vasi ons bu t ra ther to a theological!
lit erary mode o f defe nding the tru th of C h risti anit ~ against oth e r b e lie f
s\-stem s. T h e books were based Oll his interviews with th e cxplorcr-, th e m -
selves. al(lllg with documen ts he collected , <IS described in a 1967 biog-
r<l phy of Las Casas by ll cmy \Va~llel an d llc lcn Ra n d Pa rish . Cert ain
passages of th e i\ fJ ofogei ic l1islOTy indica te that he ~ ot infonnatinu abo u t
Cora-cues from Cabcza de Vaca or someone in hi s party and also Iroru
_\ !<.l reos de :\ iza, who \\-<.l S th e next European explorer to re ach th e area , ux
\\'l"11 sec in chap tc r S. It was apparently from th ese in tcrvicws tha t L Is C asas
repo rt ed tha t Cora-ones h ad about ciaht hund red houses constructed of
.1 fram ework of th ick can e tb<.l t wax covered \\i th ma ts of "delicate palm."
Some of these were "a do be houses" builtnot as d\\ellillgs but fo r storing
m ai ze (La." Casas, quo te d by Riley 197(l, 19 ).
B e i ll ~ <I priest, Las Casas \\-<lS esp ecial ly in tereste d in religious practices
awl gives us a vivid pi c ture of ceremonialli fe ill Cera-ones:

l\ 1t hon gh Cabo-a de Vaca docs no t men tion it in h is ac count, whcu

thee. urrivcdut thuttow u, the inh abitants I\CTe hol ding ;J fiesta . 'lhcv. had
a great number or animals: dee r, wolves, hares, and b irds. an d earned
tit em befo re a gre<lt idol, [alid J a rcoiu p<l nied b\-1lI 11 C h fl ute lllnsic. \\-It ich
I l l c ~ playe d , thcy sp lit the animals dOWl1 the m iddle [and ] ripped out
the hearts, and with the bl ood . .. thc~' bathed the idol, and th en th e~

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The Epic 10 11 m er o{Cabera de VaCd and Friell d.~ • 125

hll ll!; tbc hearts around the idol's ned , \ Vllc n they made this sacrifi ce,
they threw themselves OI l the !..;TOllI ld be fore their idol as a sigu of great
rev erence . . . . In this region of the l<l lley of Souo ru , on ly the hearts of
aniIllals arc sacr ifi ccd. I II e~' hold two fi est as iuw Ii ic h, a 1ll idst grca t sill g-

iu!..; anduuuic-makiug , thcv make their ,sacr ifi ecs wi th !..; red t joy, pOlllp ,
and devotion. T Ile fi rst fiesta is at the time of so\\' ing, and the uthc r at
ha rv est time.
'1hey mus t hav e other ceremonies, but those were notto he I\itnesserl ill
sueh a sbo rl tim c, because Ca bl'/a de Vaca's parly IIas inst passing thrOllgh.
It appears that thc~ han: SOllie indication of those [ccrcurouics], whieh
rpeo ple ] ofIthc north r rutrudc center] Cibola carry onl ill honor of the Sun.

:\ l'xt, Las Cas;ls im plies tha t it \\";]S the later explore r \ la reos de i\ iz;l
(sec cha pter 5) I\ ho learned of these Scno ran CIlStOl1lS, inspired bv prac tices
ill Ctbola:

\Vhcu \ 1arcos de \ i/ a en tered the principal l ilLlge and gOH'T1l ing center
of the region the ch id of the rufirc I ,l lley carne out 10 meet him and,
e"tellding. his hands to tllc Padre, then rubb ed him all mer his body. .
Thc u, ill another town ill thcvallcv. () led!;l1eS frou , there toward C fbola ,
u Icry tall stone and adobe temple was fo und with d bloodied StOlIC statue
[with hearts around its ned ]. Ncar the statue were also I11J 11\ dead .
desiced ted, d i scrubowc led 11l11l1d 11 bodies leduin g <ll;a inst th c wa] Is. 'I he!'
1I1llSt have be en the past lords ofthc I'alley, and thaf lias their sepulche r.
(adapted fr om the translation of La s C asa s In' RIb' 197(), ZO )

From la ter evide nce (c hapters 5, S), we know Cfbola was ,I gro up of
pueblos a t ZUlli, New Mexico. where ethnog raphe rs ill the 1800s do cu-
III Cllted a S11n "pr ies th oud." "lh esc "p ri csts" were not so lllil c h worshipelS 0f

the sun as trac kers of it. ' I' h e ~' obse rved th e solstices and CqUil lOXCS ill order
to set imp ortant cal endar dates and ceremonies Las C asas's report gi\'cs
us all illtrigu illg d ue that peo ple ill ce ntral Sonora relied 011 the ZUlli S11l1
pries Is' observations. Consistent with litis, Ca!Jc/J de Vaca's report, quoted
<lbOIT , indicated ac tive track be tween Corazoucs and C fbola, wi th parrot
feat hers goiu g north ,111(1 turquoise products going south , Th e disbJl1ce
from Cora /mlCS to Z uni 1\ <lS 5Z 0 to 540 trailmiles. h<l scd ou my propos ed
[rx-ation of Cora zones on th e lowe r to m id- Rio SOIHHa (sec ch apter S ).
H ere, then. we ha ve di rect evidence of active networks of tr ade. travel.
and religious-cultu ral infl uence over distances of a t least 500 miles ill la te
pre historic Son OTa, Arizuna , and :\C\\' .\1 exico.

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! 2() • C/lI.J!J/er 3

III th e same I\ay, l .as C asas's report o f ritua l excision o f anim al hea rts as
sacrifi ces to id ol s iu bloody tem p le s sou nds like a no rthe rn provincial echo
of th e h uman sac rifi cial practices o f migh ty 'Icnoohfitlu n around 13 50
tra il m iles to th e sou th. ' I he fact th at Cabcz a de Vaca's pa rty I\'<l Sgi\'Cll dee r
hea rts, perhaps consid e red sacred, IIlay indicate th<l t the nativ e Scno rans
di d no t regard til(' trav elers as ordinarv mortals .

~ 1 (Jv i n g So uth from C ora/on es: C h ristmas 1535

C ;.}he z;.} de Vacu, D orantcs, Estcvun, and Ca.'.till o di d nu t realize, when

th ey fea sted in Cora-ones. that th ey were with ill days of the ir [ouruc v's cud.
After th ree da ys in Corazones, they set out. gn ided hv th eir llSlIal CfO\\d of
adonn a locals. T h e [oiut Repo rt S<l~-S it was "aro u nd Ch n stmas."
Somewhere bcvo nd Cora-ones a rainstorm cau se d a lo cal riv er 10 rise
so h igb that the y co uldn 't cros s. Cul-cza de Vile:] im pli es that th is W d .'
a bou t a dav beyo nd Curuzuncs, bu t the Join t Rep ort sa ~ 's it was a jou rney
of ,0 league, (7 5 to 9, miles) to th e new river. Cabcza de V:Ka surrnixcx]
that th e people iuthc Cora/ones province were infl u enced in architecture
a nd d ress by ti le peo pl e from the no rthern trade center. l ie a lso n o te d that
a t the new riv er th ey had [ust reach ed , the hOllSiug stvlc changed to fl imsier
mat-sided housin g. <l 11(! th e style of d ress am ong wom e n was less m odest.
with "m antillas" reaching only 10 th e wai st o r knees. 'I hi s sugges ts Iha t th e
11(,\t river valley sou th of C ora- on es lay sou th of the l o ne \\'here people had
cont ac t witb the northern trade cente r. T h e [oint Repo rt impli es (som e-
wh at \ agll cl y) th a t exhauste d sc outs o f th e slave trad er ;'\ lliio d e C U/m;Jn
(or From OIl(' o f C or tes's boa ts") had recen tly rea c hed som e p oilit alon g th is
riv er. These descrip tio tIS suggest th a I th e party could have rea ch ed IIrc Rto
.\b tap e, or more likely th e RIO Yaqu i (sec 111;] P , p. 1()4 ).
I lcrc they stopped for fift een da vs to wai t outthe hi gh wa ters, prcsumahlv
h;.}l-illg arrived at th e best point to ford th e river when th e waters subsided

Resc u ed at Last: Spring 1; 36

W b ilc they -vain-d ill th is urcu, Castillo ca rne Up01J a stlln n ing sight. A local
ln dian lI as lI'Caring a pend ant m ade fro m the bu ckl e of a Spa nish swo rd
bclt with a horsesh oe nai] sewed to it! Asked what it was, th e ludia n replied
th ;.}t it had ccnuc fro m heaven. Affe c tin g uouchalancc , Castillo asked,
\ \ 'h o bro ugh t it From th ere ? T h c ,1ll S\IT r, as related bv C a bcza de Vaca.

Copynghtad malarial
The Epic 10 11 m er o{ Ca bera de VaCd and Friell d.~ • 127

carne bac k th rough the transla tors: " Some rucn wi th bea rds lik e o urs, who
h,HI r-ome from h eav en, had rea ched that river. T h e ~' held horses, lances,
andxwords, ;md h;ld woundcd two of th e coastal p eo ple \\ ith th eir [am-ex.
Fe ig n i llg as m u c h indifference a s we cou ld 111l1Stn , \\'(' a sked what had
beco me o f th ese strangers."! he lurlia ns said tb e ~' had gon e to the seacoast
and flo ated aI\ a y in the di rec tiOil of th e settin g sun ." T h is coastal sig h tin g of
Spaniards ill sh ips probe bl y referred to a l<lllding party [roll I 011 c of Cortes's
Ilm;J l fora;.s of 15; Z- ; 5 or perhaps CIlZlmJIl 's men in a sh ip th e y captured
fro m C o rtes,
T h e cas tawa ys lhaukcd C od , eventu all y c rossed the river, a n d raced
sou th , h opi llg to find th e "Ch ristians ,' ax C a be / ;] de Vncu referred to the
Spaniards ahead. T h e ev ents of the next fe \\ weeks arc difficult to rccun-
struct ill de tail, sin ce th e Join t R e po rt and C;lh ez;J d e Vaea 's me moi rs
men tion va rious distances tha t a re difficult to reconcile into a coherent
narra tive or itiucrarv. Su ffi ce it to sa \ th ai t h e ~' re ported foll owing tile coast-
l in e sou th and east, s t ;l~' i llg 10 to 12 le;l glles (23 to ,7 miles ) iulanrl. ncar
or sOllle\\,h<lt inhlll{l hom the modem coastal h igh\\'<l~' and raih'ay. T h e y
re porte d the "C hristia n hnrtlcr," or Spa n ish [runticr, to be "100 leagn es o r
more" ra t least 250 to ;10 trail miles ) [rom where they had been s to pped bv
rain. III o ur reconstruction, this S pa n ish frontie r (where C uv nui u's troo ps
were kllo\\ ]]) would thu s be well south of th e R io Ya qui, probublv in Hu-
regio ll of th e Rio \ Ia yo or Rio l-ucrtc. S u c h a trip may bavc ta ken twelve
to twcutv days. T o C a bcza d e Vaca 's honor, th e y di d no t find Spa niards
l il'illg in har m o n y \I'ith local villagers bu t a regioll devastated by (\ u il 0 de
C u zruan's slavc-raidiua part ies .

\ Ve traveled over much tc rrito rv and fonnd all of it uninlurbitcd because

<ld fled to th r III 0 1111 ta ius fo r fC<I r of tlr C C It rist i <l I IS, 'I 'It CPv" l' lc
ClTTy Ol I c II

dared not have homes Of cultivate the field s. lt maclc us sue] to sec how
fertil e and beau tiful the land 1\ ' a S, whilc all their places wc n' de pop u-
lated , deserted, a mi burned. 'lhc few peo ple the re were thin, ill, and
>;ca brous. 'Lh rv lived offjJ<lr k and roo ts ofrrccs . since tllc\ could not sow
their field s, We also suffe red this lIlIUL:t'T, since tllc\ rouldut feed us. T Ile
people we re so unhappv they wanted 10 die.
\ Ve told thctu that we were seekin g thc C hrisl iallS ill o rde r to tellthem
no t 10 kill India ns , o r m a ke slales of them, or re mov e them from their
lands, or harm them ill ally 1I <l ~ ', a nd Ihe~ rejoiced greatl~ to hear this.
So t!tc ~' IJ ro ll!.;h t us blaukt-ts t h e ~ ' had h idd en, and told us <Ill abo u t
the seve ral occasions when the Christians carne ami dcs trovcd anr]
burned their \ illages, a nd carried off half Ihe men and all the IIO lll C Il

Copynghtad malarial
12 S • C/lI.J!J/e r3

aud children. 'l hey had been thinki ll g tha t to die \\,<1 , be tter than w<li tillg
around to be treated xo crucllv.

Cabc xa de Vaca. ha\in~ traveled \\'ith the Xati vc Amcricans and hal-ing
be e nt reat ed as <I slave , <I shaman, and <I divine visitor. had <I slrikillgly mod-
em attitude toward th ese peoples. In a statement that wo uld foreshadow
file centu ries offuture arauurcnts mer uulitarv and geo political stra tegy, he
;ngned for kin d n ess O\Tr com hat: "All th ese people . if I IH:~- arc to he hro ngh t
to be C hris tia ns ami in to obed ience of Yonr Im peria l \l a j esl ~ ', must be led
[ell I ph asis added - W " l l 1 1)\, good treatment . '1h is \1 <lYis guarant eed. and
no other will suc ceed."
'1'he ca stawavs were U Ol\- led to a sec ret village or gath ering spot atop the
en's t 0 f <I kni [c-] i kc m ounta i11 ri d gc II- h ere 1ll a n ~- rc fu gees had f1 cd to e.' cape
the S pan iards. T he Jo in t Repo rt places it 4() leagues (100 to 124 mi les)
north of C uliacau . whic h wo ul d be ncar th e Rto Si naloa . C ollecting <I S
man y o f the local peopl e as he could find, C a bcza de Vac u assured them
th ey 1\'(1111d be safe. Br'1\dy, the party, now numbering ill th e hundred s.
pushed 011 toward th e Spa n iards . \Vith iu a fc\\ days th ey encountered <J spo t
where Spani sh horsemen had ca m ped 011 a rive r named Pctatl an. Located
roughlv CJO 1090 m iles north o f e m m au 's scttlcrucn! <I I C ulia can. the
river "l'ctuthiu'' and all adjacent l'i11age o f the vnuc n ame would playan
im p ortan t role in the activi ties of the nex t fe\\' years (sec ch ap ter ; ).
T he horsemen, C u.cnan's slav e raid ers. had passed by, planning to attack
the \'ery a rea whe-n- the castaways had recently "left the lan d a t peace."
C abcza de Vaca and ele ven ludia us rushed back u p their trail , iu search of the
Spaniards, l'OI-cring 10 leag u es (2) to 31 miles) that d a ~ - a good indication
of th e distance that coul d be covered 011 along day's march . Xcxt 1llom illg.
lh ey carne U p Oll fOIH Spa nis h hor semen. W hdt a mcctiru ; tll is must ha l e
been! As Cabcza d e Vacu describes it: "The four Christiaus Oil horsebac k
we re thunderstruck 10 sec 111 r so s tra ll gc1 ~ dressed and traveling Ilit h h rdiaus.
T h l'y stared a t m e for a long tim c,.m astonish ed tha t th e~- couldn't "peak or
m,111 <1~e to ask 111e '111~thin~. [ asked th em to ta ke me to thei r captain."

A rguin g wi th Guzman's Men : March 1 5 36

me n were led by <I capta in n a m ed Alear'!/. After an ecsta tic

C 11/ 111 ,I I1'S

rcuuiou. Alcara z and Ca bc za de Vaca sent fo r th e rest of C <l!JC/d de vaca 's

ellton mge. Son Ic six h un dred iovful :\ ati\CS l;<lth crcd, aII ti ci pa f Ill; Iihe ra f OJ I

Copynghtad malarial
The Epic 1011 mer o{ Ca bera de VaCd and Frielld.~ • 129

fWIIl the slavers. " lbcv brought Il S all the ma ize th ey co ul d lav their bands
011, ill pots scale d with clay, \\ h icl l th ey h ad previously buried ami couccalcd''
(au in te restin g iIlSi gh t iuto late prchivtoru- food p reservation tc cluuqncsl.
C U J III ,j II 's III en, howe, 'CT, still \ -ie\\ -cd th c reg i0 naI \rll agers as co llllll od-
itics. '10 Al caraz, this I\'as all c pportuuit, to talc all th e Indi ans captive Oil
the spot. Cabcza de Vaca recounts:

As lo ng as the Indians were with us, thcv feared neither the C hr istia ns nor
their la nces. T ile Christians were an gr~' about that friendsh ip . ·t he~ had
their in terpreter say that we wer e nu-n of their race who were uuluckv,
cowurdlv people who had gotten lost, when-as they II ere the true masters
of that land. T ile India ns should obcv and serve them!
T h e Indians paid TlO heed to this, T Ilcy talk ed ,JTlIOI lg themse lves,
,aying that th e Christians were lyin g abou t m being the sallie, since
I\ 'C carne from where the :.ul l rises. and th ey ca uic hom wln-rc it sets .

\ot to m ention tlte fact that I\C cured the sick, whe reas thcv ki lled the
heal1hy. \Ve carne na ked and barefoo t, while jh c~ came on horses and
carried lan ces . \ Ve co\c ted nolh inl,:, am] whut cvc r was gi,cn to 1L'i, we
ga n~ back to the Indians whu helped us. T he C h risti,ln soldiers, ho wever.
ucv'cr ..,r-ave a ll\. t ilill".., to a11\- 0 uc bu t tr icd to stca I wha rever tilcv
- Ii kcd. 'I'he
Indians discussed th is ami told il to tile Christia ns ' in ter preter by means
of a rouuuon lanl,:nagc thcy used. which -vc did n't nudcrvtand. ' ! hc~
[rave a special name for those who usc this lat 'gl1age, aud I\'C found it ill
lise over a regioll of -+00 leagues,

l Icrc i.s anoth er ink-rc:.. ting bit of vprchistoric eth!lology." 'Lhc tribes had
specia l interp rete rs wh o could spea k <I "universal" language. facilita ting
interregional conununication. The -+OO-l ea~ ll c distance (1 ,000 to 1,200
trailmiles} ov er which such comnruuica tiou \\ ';JS possible would s tretch all
the II av back to ' lcxas: "WI.' never could make the Indian s believe \\ C we re
re b ted to the o ther Ch ri... tiuns, hut I\T fin ally convinced them to retur n
hOllle and reestablish thcir \·illages. \Ve had in tellse arguments with th e
C hristians abo u t it. \\ 'e were so <ll igry tha t wlicu we depart ed, \ \ C fo rgo t abou t
lll ~JIl: hOlIS and arro ws \\ C had collected an d num erous p011 Chl'S , illcllldiug
the one with th e fi\'(' emerald mTO\\'hcaris. Thev IH 'H ' left he hind andlost,"
S uch I\ ,}S th e return o f th e shipwrec ked wundc rcrv to the glorie... o f civi-
liva tinn SOO ll they had to rcacqua! nt th cmsclvcs, ,I S wcll, wi th th e wonders
of bu re aucracy. Cabcza de \ 'C1C<l had enough lJleSellCe o f minr] to req u est a
notarized .. tatcmcnt about the (b tl' wln-n he fi rst con tacted the Spaniards.

Copynghtad malarial
1;0 • C/lI.J!J/e r 3

After we ldt the Indians ill pcacc , the C hristians del ivered us nuder
gua rd to <I ce rtain justice of the pe<lee and two oth er offi cials , \\ 110
led liS th rough forests and cm pty landv [towa rd the Spanish olltpm t of
Culia ca n] . T Ile route wa s chosen to keep us from conversing \\ ith 10 ('<11
lndia us ami from seeiTl g or hC<l rillg what the C hr istians had done.
1101\' oftell arc men's thollghts fr us trated: \ \'e ,ollght only' freedo m
for the luclians. yet jlL\t when I\C thought 1\'C had achieved it, we had
accom plished the exact oppos it e! T he had secretly' agreed
to fall Up OIl the Indians tl1M II C had reass u red and sent allay'! So they
pla nned andso thcv acted. M ea nwhil e, \ \ C were led th rough forests fo r
two days, 1\ ithou t wat er, lost and uua b]c to find a trail. \Ve thought we'd
perish ofthirst, a nd xc vc nurcu in til e party died. After Z5 1e<l gllt',' I(JZ to
75 miles], II (~ rea ched a tOIlU of frie ndly lrnliauv, and the jmtiee of the
pcace wcut another ; leagues onward to the town of C nli <ld ll, where
the 11l<lHHW <l \ Vlck-lrior D i M ,

l lappilv. Muvo r D1<lI" nul ikc reg ional gOH~ TI1 o r ( ; U/ IJJ ,ln , \\',IS a capable
;J1J d l'll ligh ten ed offi cial. l ie would play an in tere sting role in the next few'
j ears, as we'll sec. Dial traveled several miles out ofthe 100\'I llo greet the lost
Spaniards an d their ludia u supporte rs. Upsctbvthc actions ofAlca rax , D ial
a., ked C<.lbe/<.l de Vaca to sc!H1 JJJ CSscngl'rs back IIp the trail to rcaxsurc the
Indi<ll l.'> nor th of the Rio Pcta tl.tu tha t D idl wo uld suppor t thei r cause. \I ost
of II lose II idiat I S had escaped Alcaraz's attempted 01 rslauaht b~' chsa pp eari ng
into the hills. 'I he messenge rs persuaded som e of t!lell l to come to Culiac.i u.
wh ere [) ial tried to cr rcou ragc III em 10 adoptthe si xtee nth-cor limy Sparnsh
principles of (:lnislia lJity aur] the le gal str uc ture by wh ich Euro peans justi-
fied their cntrv into the ;\'el\ World. T he Indialls answered tha t thc.v alrcadv.
belie ved in a spi ri l in hcavcuc- know u 10 them b ~ ' lir e name A<;ua r-Il ir o
had crea ted the world an d provided wa te r and health.
D ial. orde red lir a I 1I 0 more slave raiding c-ould he allowed on the
fro ntier , ami the Iu dia us ;J grccd that th e ~' would do whutcvcr D ial a sked.
F ifteen davs la ter ,\ k ,mil ca rne back from his sl ave r,lidil lg, reporlin g
druubfoundcdl v tha t the ludia ns had retu rned to their tOI\fJS awl COl lie
ou t to m eet his vlavc raiders \\ ith crosses Shl'Cpishly, Alca ra z had bac ked
,1\ I 'a\ ' fr om con fro nta ti on .

D ial IJOI\ tried to get C a bc / <l de Vacu and th e other th ree travelers to
se ttl e ill C ui iacan . sa ~' i lJ g that the prov i nee needed suc h ca pa blc me r1. '1'h e
castav avs, however , decided 10 rctun I 10 true civ ilivation: :vlcxico Ci ty. ' lir e
date I\ as ca rh -'l ay 1 5) (1, and th eir talc I\'a.' not yet e nd ed.

Copynghtad malariat

T h e New Viceroy P onders

th e Nor th

' I he mira culo usl y resurrected castaw avs -c C ab cza de Vaca , Andres D or-
antes, Esk'\ ;lll de I) OTU ll tt' S th e M oo r, and Alonso Cavtillo-cpluuncd th eir
departure from IOII-,n d \ 1r.~ \ ic o Citv. T h e dista nce a]()ll~ th e old
trails, ac cordiua 10 histori an Cl eve Hallenbeck ill 19 49, was a bou t 8,0
m iles. 'I be fi rst half of the trip le d to Compostcla. a settlement where
(; 111:11 1<1 11, as gov erno r oftlrc N or th west , m aintained Iris headquarters. 'I h e
couutrv between Culiacun and Compostcla . 110\\1:\"(:1', wa.s ill revolt agai ust
the Sp,II1i sh ovcrlordx became of the depredations of men like C Il Zlll ,lll,
,\ s a I CSIl ll , Cabcza de VdCl 'S party ba d to \\ <l i t te ll or tw elve cia:','; unt il a ll
.mucd guard could be organixcd. It included hl'Cllly hurscrucu und severa l
hundred local ludia ns . C a bc za de Vaca wrote tha t thc\ fiuallv left Culi acan
oIl16 \1<l \' I;)()
In Compostcla, CllZlll<lIl g:an: them a hardy wcicotuc , IHO\'iding: thei r
first fine Spa nish cloth es ill eig: h t years [m i ll his own sup plies. Cabcv a dc
Vaca S~l y s the clothes we re so stTililge Oi l hi s skill that he cou ld n o t wear
them for lllan~- davs. and durillg th e sam e hun- he found it easier to sleep
Oil the fl o or tha n in a be d. In spite of the w clcutuc , CabC/;J de Vaca 's p<l rt~

rega rd ed C llzm ,ll l as IlO friend . and they p ressed on. i\ ccor din g: to histori an
C .vc lonc C O\CI. (1 961 , I) ;), thee. arriv ed in 'vi cci co Ci h. all 2-1 Juh. I ;36.
If Covey's date is right. the trip from C uiiaca u to Vlc xi cn City took them
sixty-n ine days. fo r an avc rauc o f on l~- 12 Illiles per day. including th e ir


Copynghtad material
• C/lI.J!J/er 4

stopover ill Corupostcl a . . .\ 1l 0\\' i ll ~ two weeks of d own time, perhaps mostly
ill Courpostcla. the average travel rate would be about 15 miles pe r day .
T he rate s wil l he l1seful ill (jilt later 1c.>; ls of reported travels

Xl cxico Ci ty: 1535-1 536

In :\lc:-.:ico ( : ity, two im portun t change, had OlT11 n ed d u rin g th e c;J st;m ;Jys'
odyssey. First, ill the early 1530s, as already mentioned, sensa tionalnews
of l-rancisco Piz arro's discovery of a golden empi re ill Pe ru had arrived.
'It) y0I111g Spa nia rds ill the streets of :\kxico Ci ty, this \ \ -<l .'i glorious proo f
that the -" ell \\'orld \1 as dolled \Iith empires of stupendous wealth. Such
em pires could be conquered by <lily handful of disciplin ed Spa niards who
believed tha t fortune fan n ed the hold . . or the ruthless. ' I hcsc YOlln~
111CIl, already drawn to America by tales of Cortes . chafed to sec 111t<l1:\ CI\
Spaill's HC>;t northern frontier had to offer.
,\ second new developmen t ill \ le>;ico City was tha t ill 15;5 the ~O\t'fll­
ing cnuncil, or undicm-ia . had hccn ;Jtlgmell tnl by a viceroy ivice-roi, ic .
lice-kil l~ - the kill~'S direct representa tive). who served ;1-, presiden t of the
a udicncia. Cortes was thus even more ma ruiualizcd.
'1'he viceroy was Antoni o _\ ICll doza,According to \ Icndoza's I n7 biogru-
pln-r, Arthur Aiton. he arrived in :--'1exi co I\'ith great cere1110llY in '\01t'111 bel'
15;'5. He wax au interesting man. Born ill 1490 or 149 1, [IC was about
forly-fl\'C years old when he arrived to ~o\'('[n M exico for the king. li e t-ame
from CI distinguished {amilv (all important criterion ill those days ). I lis father
had sho wn not only military ability uguill"t the \ IOOTS ill Spain uuti! their
cxpul si OIl iI\ I492 b 11 t a]so ad miIIi stra ti\'C abilit~' as gO\'eTlI or opera f llg from
the Alhambra, which had beenthe palace ofthe 'vl ocri sh kingsiu Gra nada.
.1 citv w i th aII intcrcthuic pop lilati OJI () f MusIims, C hris hans, JCI\ ;;, und () I h-

crs. YOll ng Alltollio shewed similar mililary and diplomatic skill. He'd been
with Cortes ill ,\ lexico .n n] was sent In'. Cortes ill 1521 to earn. th e fir st
eyewitness news of Telloch ti tlau back to Spain. IrOll icallv, as noted by Il u ~h
'lhcuras ( 1995, 539 ), M endoza had left :\ C\l Spain before the final fall of
"l cuochtitlau, sn he was en thrall ing Castile with d\\ e-illspirillg dcscriphous
of the {'ity, hut at the same linn- the city itself W' 1." , unknown to him . beillg
destroyed , first b~' Cortes's final attac k and then by the di,>;!ll;llltlillg of the
A/,lec structures to provide building materials for the Spanish cathedral an d
other structures.
Still, by I 528 \ lellllo z~l W:lS well kuowu to King Carlos V, who \\' :1 S
pOllderill~ hmv to shi ft gO\TrJl,lIlCe in \1cxi co from Cortes to more direc t

Copynghtad malarial
"I1lC ,\ 'ew Vicerov Ponders the ,\ 'orlll • I; ;

royal con trol. B ~ ' 1) Z9 th e re \\'<lS talk of Mcudcva bein~ se nt to ru le Xcw

Spain. llis act ual appoinhucut <IS th e firs t viceroy did notmaterialize until
April 1) ) ),
\ ! cndoza thus headed th e "second generation" ill \ 1e\:ico C i tv. ,'\ s vi rc-
ro~' ill Mexico, h e displaced substantia l vision ill 11l<l[l ag illg S e \\' Spain,
cr ea ting a repu tatio n for ju stic e a n d generosi ty toward Xativc Americans
and Spa uia rds ali kc. H c supported lir e fi rst p ri llt il lg press ill tire S cw World
(set "P h~' Bish o p Z\1111,irraga; -'<T map + ), min ted coins , and help ed set
up <1 uni versity teach in g European liberal arts and the ol ogy to the S0 11.'i of
Al lee nobilit v. •\ 1 tire same lime . Ire violcutlv resisted regional rebellions ill
the 15+0s. O m: \\a ~' or anoth er, his name .~llO I1 J d he iu the list of importunt
early X orth Am e rica n politicalleaders . O IlT hi stories, howev er, tend to
fin or col orful couqucrorv m er capa ble go n: rnors,
C ortes proba bly assumed he c-ould have ,1 11 "in" with h is [onucr subordi-
I la te . Re nie rIrbc r tha ! C ortes a lrcadv h ad sir ips proh illg »ort h into the C u if

of Ca lifornia . S uc h an alliance \\'a .~ not 10 be . .\l e n doz;l (with e O;l ehing

fro m the Spauish court) probabl v viewed Cortes as a loose canuou .
As :\1cndo/a comolidatcd h is au thori ty mCT ;\e\\ Spain, he and Corll's
maiutaincd forlll aL ob-so-co rdial relations, but th cy e merged ,I S rivals ill
th e c oming conquest of the X orth . vl cndoza's goal \\ as 10 sec Iha t further
cxplorufiou proceeded accordin g to Spanish ],1\\', with th e killg recei\'iug
accurate reports, along wi th his design,1ted share of wha tcvcr trcasu res were
found. C ortes's goal was profi t fo r C o rk's.
In to this unstable political situation , ill th e summer o f 1);6, walked th e
fou r cast aways. \\ho had a ctua l!y seen lire much-di sc ussed north e n [ country.
.\1cndoz;J set up ,l11 intervie w. '1'h e travelers begall the disCll.Ssi om by lodgiIlI,;
a complaint a bou t :'\ 11 1io de C UZ [ll<l n 's treatm en t of th e lndians , which
was alicr latil I ~ tile Xa tivc AI Ircr icar [ COil mun li lies II ITOUg!lOl1 t tl rc no rthwes t
frontier. .vl cndoza, I\ orki llg I\'itb a lll'\dy a ppoi n ted law-cuforc cmcut n lagis-
tra tc . respon ded ]n' hali ng lire notorious C Ulllld n a rr ested and thrown in!o
prisoll , ;\ pr om pt inquirv re moved C llw du from p(mCT in [unnu rv 153 7.
C IlI.lll,l n a ppealed hi s treatment From a \ lexi co Ci tv jail cell b ut was sen t
to S pa in il l J u ] ~ I ) ; S al[d held ill detention. Auy conquistador \ \ 110 found
gold could alwavs fall back 0[1 h is sccretly sequestered wealth 10 eseape or
prolong legal inquiries, as C o rtes had .~ hO\\'1 1, C UZnl<l ll, h O\\'C\T r. as thc
hi storia n Arthur Sco tt Ai to n remarked in 1()27, " had been cruel , rapaci o us,
and self-sec kil lg, bu t worse than that, had failed to discover new stores of
rca dv-uradc wealth. an d this fa il ure cvnnguishcd a llY hope of hiding his
.~llOr teom inl,;.s" (2()). C llll ll<l U thus died ill POI-cTty ill Spaiu , probable around
1; +1-, tho ugh CmTy (1 96 1. 1---1-3 ) places th e date as la te as 1;;0.

Copynghtad malarial
1)4 • C/lI.J!J/e r 4

C ortes, for his part. was 11 0 do u bt happy about C I\I: n\<lIl 's arrest. lI is
primarv rival Oil tile frontie r was 110 \\" out of the way. J lis op en path to the
north \\'llS suddculv threatened, however, by th e 1),7 ulliuucc of .vlcn-
doza. Cabcxa de Vaca, n oran tes, and thei r friends. \\' h ~ ' should the viceroy
waste time wi th ne wcomers and th eir gossip abou t th e ind elicate taches
employed bv bold IIlCII who, after all, had ach ieved patrioti c success by
,ldding ne w lands to th e Spanish lanpirc?
Back ill the vicc rov'x palace. C<lbeza de Vacu and his colleagu e, cmphu-
sized to Mendoza th at throughout th eir route innorth em Mexico. they had
found the ludia ns to be intell igent people of goodwill. '1lrc tone of their
conversation is cnnvcvcd . by. couuncu ts tha t Cubcva de Vaca mad e ill hi.,
boo k ~ear s later. While he criticized the India ns over S0111 e of their lHac-
ficcs, he also remar ked thut thcv "sec and he ar more and have the sharpest
senses. [ believe, of any people ill thc worl d , , . T hey arc well-disposed.
intell igent people. able to follow all~ doctrine if it is IIcl1 presente d. .. . III
the lifetime of llis :\l aj e .,t~' it will be possible to subj ect the se people to the
tru e Lord . , , becau se III the 2.0()(j leagues that we travel ed by land ,11HI
scu, \\C fOll nd uo s,Jnifi ecs nor ulolatrv'
T he last lines are inte resting. since Las Ca sas later claimed that .\lar-
cos de .'\in had reported anim al sacrifi ces ami blood, shrines Il ith he arts
draped around idols, just 6icaglll's (1 2 to l') miles] from Cora-ones. It's
possible that Cabcza de Vaca did not sec such things dllTing his brief \'i sit
or thClt Las C<lSdS exaggera ted or in some I\'ay was misle d,
Mcndcxa interview ed the travelers with arca t care about societies . citi es.
tOII IlS , and routes. Vlast c:\eitillg of all wa s their report of th e urctalworkmg
center of couuncrcc somewhere north of th eir rou te, COll11l this be. at lOllg
last, the direct c-cnhrmahon of the earl ier rmuors about another golden
empire beyond th e northern fronti er? M endo za. <I S well <IS Cortes, 1\ 'd S
aw are tha t ill the (bys when C ll/lll <l1l ran Panuco. C ll ll n;] U had inter-
view ed Indians who described a great trade cent er il l the North. One ludia n
had c-laimed to ha ve seen a street with sih c L'illl iths or metalworkers

Interp ret ing Senor Dorantcs's C opp er Bell : 1; 36

,\ k udO/a assclllbled his evidence mcthodi callv. In his conceptual edifice,

one item stood ou t like the keystone ill anarcb. It wa s the ('opper bell gi\cJl to
Andres Dorautcs (sec fig . 3). 'I he castaway s had been told it carne Irotu a land
with large, pcrmaucut hOIL,es no rth of their route. l lcrc \ \'<1 S phvsicul proof
tha t the dishlIl t northern me ttopolix not oilly exi sted but traded in metals.

Copynghtad malarial
,\tap 7. Couceptv of
til{' i'\orth. (<I ) TIlt:
\1 cnclova-cra \'I SlO11 ,
bI S..,<! Oil the hest infer-
ma tion and rumors.
ava ilahle in I ;~& .
D of
C abeza de Vaca's report
suggested <I wealthv
tr'lding center m-ar
till' north COdSt. Bal,l
C alifornia was t h " ll ~h t
hv sorue to he ,111 isLmd;a
oc c upied by .\m az o1lS. <1sWn
( h ) R('alily. Vlaps by ca. 1$38
R O ll Beckwith.

ca. 1540


._"" -
. -. .

Copyrighted malerial
I ;() • C/lI.J!J/er 4

Ped ro de Cas taneda, the m emoirist \\" 110 wro te two deca des Idler ab o ut
th ai era , lIla y or ll l<l y not have ex agge rated when he said th e cast awa ys g ,l\ C
the vicc rov "m;H\CIOII S ncwx o f som e \\'C<ll thy p ueblos" (truuslation
bv Fl in t an d Fli n t 2005, ~ 7l), ~ 8 7 ; sec also discussion o f th e co nversation
bet ween Mcudcza and Cu bcza d e VdC <I i ll chapter 5).
Viceroy vt cndova was impressed lJy a nother re por t from the ca stawavs.
We sa\\ ill the last cha pter ho w C ab c- a de Va ca and h is frien d s "dedu ce d"
th at the p rospero us Illetah\()rking tra de ccntcr , th ough nor th of th err route ,
was near what we 110\\' call the Pa cifi c coast (see llla p Za) . 'I h is id ea th rilled

SIDEBAR : The Irony of th e Copper Bell

Modern resea rch has revealed a stunning Iro ny about Dora ntes's copper bell, As
mentioned in chapter 3. archa eologists have fo und numbers of cop per bells in the
southwestern United States compa rable to Dorantes's bel l. The la rge, in cised bell
shown in figu re 3 is an examp le. It was fo und amid st prehistoric trash in a room
in one of the "Salado era " pueblos (built typica lly around A.D , 13(0), The ruin that
produced t his bell was near the San Pedro River, a ri ver likely on the route of the
Cab eza de Vaca party. Based on the context, the dean of Arizona archa eo logists,
Emil Haury, in 1947 estimated this bell's date as 1300- 1400. Another bell in a sim -
ilar style was repo rted in 1907 from a site on the Tularosa River in west-central
New Mexic o. In 1995 archaeologist Victoria Vargas publis hed a major study of
622 bells from 93 sites in the American Southwest and in northwestern Mexico,
She confirme d her suspicions, based on bell design, age, spatia ldistribution, and
chemistry of the copper, that these bells did not originate in the North. Instead,
the che mistry revealed coppe r ore sources in Michoaea n, 200 miles west of Mex-
ico City, and in other coastal provi nces only as lar north as Sinalo a. The bells
were traded fro m there to the northern pueblos.
Interestingly, archaeolog ist Charles Oi Peso and his coworkers in 1974 had
announced that copper was being smelted and fabricated mto bells at the huge
pueblo of Cas as Brandes, Just south of the border in Chihua hua That w ould have
confi rmed Cabeza de vaca's conclusio n that metalwo rking occurred in urban
areas near their ro ute, but Vargas reviewed Oi Peso's data and refute d his result
from the chemi cal evide nce. In another examp le, Di Peso pres ented fo ur copper
pieces he called "inqots," a word that Implies smelting and shap ing. Varga s and
he r consultants conc luded they were not ingots but pieces of raw copper shaped
merely by hammering. Such raw copper mass es were probably examp les of the
"pla tes" of copper, or "sh eets buried in the ground: that Indians had described

Copynghtad material
"I1lC ,\ 'ew Vicerov Ponders the ,\ 'orlll • 1; 7

Mendo za. If the northern crup irc WCTe Oil II rc coas t or perhaps 011 a n inlet
[rom th e sed, it meant that the proposed northern cities Il lighl be reachable
by sh ips,
T h is important idea, \\'h ic h has been undcrapprccia tcd bv modem his-
torian s, influ enced m an y actions ill the ucxt fou r years, as .vl cndo va and
C ortes jockeyed 10 orgalli/e ti le fi rst grand COil quest of tile Xcrtb. \ I cndc-a
proceeded with plans for all expedition by laud , but both \ 1e lJ(lozd and
C ortes now al so expecte d to rea ch the n orth ern \\ T a ltlr by SC;J, or a t least
place th eir sh ips within stri king distance.

to the castaways. Furt hermore, Oi Peso found no smelting f urnaces during his
excavations of Casas Grand es Va rgas's bottom line was that no good evide nce
exists for production of t he copper bells in t he nort hern provinces, correspo nding
to t he current bo rderlands.
Herein lay the great irony: M endoza and Co rtes were prepari ng to travel
nearly 2,000 miles to chase the implic ati ons of a bell t hat came from Mexican
provin ces only 200 miles away from their sta rting paint !
How, then, did Mexican bells reach the North? Tod ay we know that villages
in Mexico and t he Ame rican Southwest w ere loosely linked by broad, informal
regional networks mvolvmg trade and mformation flow, The degree of that trade
is still controversial, but t rade items clearly we nt from one village to an other
along w en-known routes. Individual Native American traders traveled hundreds
of mi les along th ese routes, as confirmed in eyewitness t estimony from Mar-
cos de Niza (see chapter S} and also from M endoza's naval ca ptain, Hernando
Ala rcon (see chapter 101. From such commerce, specia lized trade goods from
MeXICO diffused, villa ge by village, all t he w ay from central M eXI CO to Arizona
and New Mexico and perhaps be yond.
Iro ny piles on irony! The Indians w ho gave De-antes th e bell may have actu-
ally been trying to explain the existence of t hat trade, As referenc ed In cha pter 3,
the castaw ays' JOint Rep ort contains a garbled statemen t quoting the Indians as
saying th e be ll " came fro mt he north, traversing across th e land tow ard the South
Sea." Cabeza de veca's group seems to have ta ken this to mea n th at the sources
were cities on the South Sea coast {map 7af, but t he Indians may ha ve been
trying to explain that such bells came to the m f rom the north but that the bells
had fir st traveled from southern M exico to t he New M exico pueblo tr ad e cen-
te rs, t hen so uth along the Rio Grande t o the region around modern EI Paso. They
" came from the north" but "traversed lands extendmg tow ard the South Sea."

Copynghtad material
\) S • C/l1J!J/e r 4

VicCHJ\' M end oza \ 1:J kcs P lans with Doruntcs: 1536- 1537

Viccrov \'1 endoz<J \\,;JS <J prudent planner. l ie knew he n eeded better in for-
mati on , \ Vhere were the mvstcrious c ities? \ Vha t routes reached them ?
whatmetals were worked there ? 110\\ big were tile ci ties? \Vere they wel l
defended? D id their metal worke rs wo rk in gold , like th e vl cxica and the
Incas? Could the cities he reached by sa iling lip the co ast?
\1 cudozu knew th;Jt Cortc.~ \\'as alrcadv trying: to get hi s .'ihi p.'i [ar el lOllgh
north to lea rn a bou t tbc cities or perh aps even reach them . :\'0 do ubt this
in crea sed Mendoza's O\\ ll in terest ill a nav a l ro ut e. Cortes c ou ld not be
trusted to plav by the rules: if he made the discovcrv. waxu't he likely to
launch a conqu est, claim the land s, send th e king less than the rovalfifth .
;md keep the extra for himself?
M cndo-a pic ked one of the castawavs, Ca pt. And res D oran tcs. to help
him ge t better info rma tion. ll c rc , \\e recount \\'Ilat happened lied ill 15 j (j
a lld I 5, 7 b~' paraphrasing the vic crov'x O\n 1 words in 1\\ 0 letters .\ k lllio za
wrote to Killg C a r! os V. ( ) lle \\'i1 S wrilten 01110 Dece m ber 1; , 7 ( d I SClI S ~cd
hv l Iar tm.nm an d Flin t 2(0), 27- 28) <ind anoth er 01 1 em un cer tain date in
15N (tra nslated by Flinl an d Flin t 200; , 4; - -+ 8):

,\fto Cabua de Vucu's party arrived in \ 1C\ico C ity, one ofthe castm\ ays,
u.uncr] '\ l1 d rb Dnrau tos, joined Illy court. I conSllhed with him 111a n~
runes . I rC<lli/ cd it would he to the King's service to stud people to tha t
nortlu-ruland to karl! for cer tain its nature. I ('llg;lged Dorantes close at
hand. mpposil!l; he would be <lble to do gre<l t SC n' i(T for Yom Vlajcstv.
I cmplovcd him to tu l c a parh ' cith forty or fi ft~ horses and search out
the secret ofthe nor thern regi ous, '10 ont fi l l )ora llte~;ll1d these people,
I estimate it \HHIld cost \ 5·\0 pcsos, I':\TII though I provided <111 things
UeC('SSdry for his [ourncv and xpcut 111 011CY to that encl. [ [cvcutuallv]
found that the matter had been broken off. I don't unders tand \\, 11\' this
happened . hu t the enterprise c ollapsed [ill 1537]. 1 previously wrote to
you , asking permission for exploration, but I haH' received no reply, so l
am pet itiol1ing <ll;<l in fo r this pcruussiou.

\Vily did the plan 'lith ])or;m tes fall throu gh, and \\'h y did \!c l1(IOZ;1
seem so \agu c ab out it' T h e movcmcntx of lIorautcx and C abcz a de Vuca
l;i\'c som e clues, T hey left \ lcxi co C itv d ming the spri ng of 1 ; ") 7 to sail to
S pain from Cortes's colony cf Vcrac ru-. C a bcza de Vaca's shi p made it. bu t
Dora utcs's lea ky sh ip had to turn back to veracruz. ~lTTi \' illg proba blv ill \b ~'
I S37. T hat's when Viceroy \ 1cndoxa offered him the northern c xpcdi fion

Copynghtad malarial
"I1lC ,\ 'ew \lieemv Ponders the ,\ 'orlll • 1; 9

According to historian C yclone C O\ e ~ ' . \\Titil lg ill 1l)() 1, Doran tcs held back,
\\aiting for a royal jciut command to be obta ined by Cabcza de Vaca ill
Spain A couuu issi O Il rh re ef fro III thc ki n g III ight gi\ T Dora utcs and (:;Jbeza
de Vacamuch greater auth ority than a mere \'iceroyalty cnunuissiun T hey
might gaill rights to re turn to ti le N or th 011 their owu.scarcf fo r wealth, and
establish new settlements. T ile royal command from Spain nCI"C r material-
ized. .vl cndoza II1a~ ev en have known about their plan butmac hale diplo-
m;J tically pretended not to nnd crxtand ,\'h ~' Dnrautcs II,ithdn.:\\' in order to
avoid becoming en tangled in the Doran tcs- C ab c-a de Vaca court intrigue .
Dorantcs remained ill Mexico but retir ed Iron , exploration, married a
rich \\ idO\\, and fathered at least fourteen children, iud[[di ng thre e SO ilS
whn became 1\ ell-know 11 fi gu res ill .\ CI\' Spa in. :\.l elldota had to start over.

T h e Requerimiento ami a Proc lama tion fro m th e Pope:

Jun e 1; 3i

:\klldoza ha d ano the r pro bl em . 110\1' should justi ee be extende d towa rd

the Indians if ne\\' TellOch titlam or C11 l:eOS were discovered ill the \ "orth ?
In the fac e of wildca t c onqui st ado rs \\ allli lig to enslav e the ludia us at
(Tery turn , what legal tools did -'len d(m J huvc to regulate: the trcahucnt of
:\;ltin ' peoples ?
Ouc answer already existed. a do cument call ed the requerinuento. It had
been kllllmered ou t bv European legal and religi ous sch olars and ctuuucr-
a tcd the right s and duties of peopl es inla uds beil' g claimed by Spain. Int er-
es till gl~ ' elHH lgh, its roots went buck to decrees thu t lslamic Arubx had read 10
peoples they we re co nquering. Based on that tradi tion, a roy,l] order issued
as early as 1512 required that the rcqu criuucnto be read to n CII' I~ ' discovered
peoples during an ~' formal "acts of possession." T his \\ d.' one SIWJll step but
hardly a great leap forward for lnuna uib . 0 11 tir e enlightened side, il spelled
0[[1 .\-atin: America ns ' rights dlHl .'>lllJlmarized the ell tire cosmic rcalitvas
understood ill those davs. l\ 1so Oil the side of en lir.;h tcrnncnf it was not some
secret legal justifica tion penned by an attomcv -gcncral's hcuclnucn in ca se
of legal ebdllcnge.'i ; it wav public.n nd exp lorers had to read it il l person (and
have it transla te d as \\('11 as possible ) ill front of the na hvcs of all11 e\\ lands
th ey discov er ed O il the nega tive side , it en dorsed ustouish iug despotism. As
pointed out by the H illis. vario us versions existed, and the specifi c \ersiollS
used by various vlcudoza-c ra explorers. such <I S C oronad o, arc not known.
Bel ow, I have ada pted and combined various \ cfs iollS, l 1i nt and l-l iut (200 5,
() l6- 11) ) transla tc it spcc-i fie version dating from 15H' or 1515.

Copynghtad malarial
140 • C/l1J!J/er 4

I l ll a ~ i n e
a n e xplorer, then, accompa nied bva fC\1' scuu cffcctivc tra nsl a-
tors, rcadi II!; th is doc-nm cut to vi lIal,;e rs soIIIe\\ here ill e lla tctu ala or S OIl ora:

O il behalf of the Killg, DOll C arlos V, and his Q ueen , subdue rs of the
barb arous na tions, 1,- - , his servant. inform and nra ];c known to you,
as best I call , the fo ll o \\'il1~. The I.o rd C od created heaven and ea rth,
and made unc man aud OIlC woiua u, of wh 0 III we arc all descendants.
But bccuusc of the multitude thut sprang fro m this or igiIla l lll an aur]
wom an, dllTillg the five tIIOIlS,llHI :'ears and mor e si nce tIle world began,
it \\'<1,<; ucc cssarv for some men to ~o OIl C W<lY and sunu- a no the r. di\'ldillg
themselves into manv provinces.

So far, so good , T he explore r I\;JS explaining thc Lu rup cau \'icw of the
" oriel. T he estimate of r arth's age ha d been ob tai ned bv addi ng li p all the
gene ra tions mentioned ill the Bible since Ada m. It was fine-t uned more
Fauiou.dvu ccuturv la ter, ill the !fJOOs, b:' Bishop [am cx Usshcr in l rclaud.
(ll c Pu t the date of cr eation at B Octo bcr [J ulia n J ill 4004 B,C. ) Of course,
th is r.alr lilatiou is too sh 0 rt bv ;J fa ctor () f ; 1 III i11 i0 II a nd ha s been ;1 ba ndoi red
ill most of the educa ted world, excep t in the United Sta tes, where fun da-
ment alis ts lry to inse rt it in publ ic sch ool scie nce cla sses.
;\10\\ came th e next 1II 000t impor ta n t part of the rc qucri micuto-c- thc

socioth cological struct ur e of thi llgs.

O ver all these nations, C od appointed olle 1II<l 1l , call ed Sain t l'ctcr, to
he superior to allmen in the world, so that e\TrYO lle should obey him .
.. . C od cuunua ndcd [Saint Peter and eac h ofhi.<, succcssorslto put hi,<,
scat in Rome , the spot most filting from " hich 10 TIl le the world. h om
the re he should judge and !.;O\T rll all C hristia ns, \ lo ors, [c ws, Ccutilcs,
aud all other sects . T h is man is called the Pope. T he nrcu who liv ed in
the lill ie of Saint Pete r regarded lum as the most supe-rior person of the
univ erse. People ha ve regarded all the others wh o have been elected 10
serve ;IS Po pe , after him, in the same \\ <1 : '.
O uc of IIIesc Popes li as ~ i \e [ 1 all thes e islands aud maiulaudx -c al l the
lndics a ut] .vl cxico -c-to th e afo resaid Killg and Q ucen, and 10 all thei r
succcsvo rs. T his is reco rded in certain legal writings, which yon C;1Il sec
if I O !! wish.

l-vcu this \1<lS a ste p forward -c compa rcd to Attila the Hun. ,\ ce rta in
absurdity hung over th e scene, however, a.<; au expeditiona ry or priest read
the doc urn ell ti n Spanivh or l. a ti n , tlmnu;h trallS]a tors. to astonishcd :\'a f \ 'C

Copynghtad malarial
"I1lC ,\ 'ew Vicerov Ponders the ,\ 'orlll • 141

Amcncaus. Still. Iikc Il l a ll ~ ' legal documents, it salved consciences by gi ving

COl1querors:m ,1IlSI\ cr 10 their c ri tics. Evcryth illg was legal and pro peL .'\ 0 \\
carn e the important part:

Therefore, their lnghncsscs. the " ill g ami Q ucel1 , are lords of the ,c
islands <1 11(1 th is mainla nd. , . \1 <l IlYuf tln- inha bitants of these lands ,
once infonnt-d oftlrc aforesaid facts -c iudccd ncarlv all to whom this
proclamation has been rcarl c- hav c accepted their higI111 es.<,c., as their
lo rds . in tIle W <l ~- th<l t subjects of <I ling oll gl lt to do, yyith goodwil l and
110 resistance . T hey' also received and obcvcd the p rics t-, whom their

Itighncsse, sent to preac h to them andteach them about OUT h o l ~ faith.

'I hey [rave <111 become Christians , and the ir higI111 e" e" han- jovfullv
rec eiv ed them , connna ndiuq thatthee hc treated as subjects of Spain .
T hus , ,I> best In ' can. IY-e ask and requi re that ~O ll think about what we
hav e sa id , aut] take whatever time yon need to del iberate about it, <1 11<1
tha t von ac knowledge the Church as the ruler und superior orguni/CT of
the whole world: and the Pope ,IS high priest; and the King and Q l1een
of Spain ;lS our lords and as the lo rds of these bl lds, si nce the Pope has
designated these lands to belong to the Kin!; a nd Q ueen of Spaiu.

l Icrc is a hit of bc co111iug modcxtv: "As bes t wc call, Y\C ask , .. tha t
1'011 thi lll about what we han' said." At least the writer of that sente nce

reco gni zed thatthere mighl he difficulties ill understanding bct-vccu lit e
reader and the listeners. Di d tha t writer have to fi ght \\'ith lllcmbers of
some coruunucc ill some European palace 10 get IItal SClltCHCC into lit e
doc um en t? D id debate OCCllT about wh ether the whole document \\'a.'> a
farce? T h e language continued in a soft vein

If YOIl do '0, YOIl will do well, and lie will receive you ill all IO\'C ami
chantv. .unl IYT will leave n it ) \'O UT wives ami children and lauds . free
II ithou t .'> CT\ itudc, that yon llla~ ' do II ith them u, you thin k best, frcclv.
'I'Il (' King and Q ucell wil I not com peI you 10 become C hristia II \ mless ~-o II
yourselves. when informed of the truth . wisl r to he converted to our lrolv
C atholic faith, a, almost <Ill the inhabitants of the other la nd, [rave done .
Fun hcnuorc, Iheir higllllcsscs I\' i11 aw ard yon m<lny pri\ ilcgrs and bencfi Is,

After the velvet glove ca me the iron fi st:

But if you do not agree to this, or malicious], delay ill doing it, I cc rtifv
that with the help of ( ;od we will fo rccfulk cuter ~-our cnuutrv <lnd alt ,lek

Copyrighted material
142 • C/l1J!J/er4

-HJl[ in cvcrv. wav- I\'Ccan. awl subject vuu _ to the

.vokc awl obed ience of
tIl c Chme h a II( I of th ci r higlilles,'i cs. \ \'c 1\ ' ill ta ke yo u alid ;'0 ur w ilTS a nd
children uud ma ke slaves of them, and ill sell and dispose of thctu d'i

thei r high nc>Sl's may com mand. ,\ 1,0 , IH' will tukc a\\'a;. ;"O I1T good> , and
do yon <Ill the harm and daIII<lgc that I\T ca u, as befits I'ass<lh e-lm do not
obey, U r w h 0 refuse to rccc in ' tIlcir lord, resisH II g alid cu n tradict in!; hiIll .
l-urthcr, lIT state tha t the deaths aucl losses that yOI1 will suffer from thi,'i
arc .vnur own fa ult,;l1ld notthat olthr-ir highnc.<,.<,cs, or oms, or <J Ill'. of thc
soldiers that muv come.

III spite of its harshness, the rcqucrimicnto was a legal tool in tended hy
atleast SO I I I C of its authors 10 advance the cause of fai rncss -. it was a sort of
sixteenth-century ;\ lir(/ T1 da c-lause . O l1 the freewheeling Amer ican frontier,
however, it I\"dS not \'ery effectiv e. III early] ), 7 Bishop Zl1m,lmlga and
BartolO1 I1 C de Casas mel wi th other clerics in Mexico Cill <llld IIICI I
se nt a let ter to Pope l'aul ll l lIrging a clearer cdict. '1'1111 .';, in [unc 1537
Pope Paul 111 issued ,lllother small step 011 the Relwissa nce road out of the
.\liddle Ages, ;1pupal proclumution callcd Suhlimi,s Deus, It presented the
"infall ible" opinion that "the Indians a rc trul y men and the;.' arc .. , capable
of unde rstanding the Cat ho lic faith. . . '1 he said In dians . . arc by 110
mcauv to he dcprivccl of their liberty or . , , their property,"
\ Vonl of this probably reached \ lel1doza toward the end of ] :;, 7,111([ prob-
ably Influenced his next steps. III one bold utovc. he proclaimed Irccdoru
for the northem Indi alls from the slave raiding conducted by C UZlll,IIl . :\O
doubt he \ldS encouraged 1101 oulv by the popc bil l also 1)\, Cabcza de Vaca's
insistence Oil the Iricudl iucsx .md intelligence of the :'\ ufiv c Americans along
most of his party's rout e. III this ac t, Mendoza foresh adowed by som e )26
~ ears AIn a ha111 l .i 1I col t1 •s I'~ ma trei pation l'rocla 111 alion. l.i lI C 0 III Iia d prccious
little control OIH the situa tion he confronted. and Autouio \-lendot:a har]
e\C11 less , III the haciendas, mines, and coustructiou sites of :\ C\\ Spai n.
munv overseers were not about to have their prof tahlc practices cramped by
proclamations fro m distant cathedrals. univcrsifiex, ,[1\(1 viceroys.

T he King Supports M end oza: Apr il 1; 38

T he rcqucnnucnto, the SUh/lI11 is DeliS, and C ube-a de Vaca's !cstimolly

were oulv three of the tools thai ViceTOV Mendoza inheri ted 10 deal \Iilh
gmernancc , On Ii April 15) S King Carlos V g<l l'e hi m anoth er tool, nn
au thorization to pursne explora tion of the North It meant tha t the viceroy.

Copynghtad material
"I1lC ,\ 'ew Vicerov Ponders the ,\ 'orlll • 14;

not the marques del Valle de O <l X<lC<I (C ortes ), had the r i~llt to exp lo re th e
nort h ern lauds. ~' e\\ s of th is authori zation mav have reached .vl cndoza ill
the summer o f 1 , ; S,
Armed with th is proclamation , \!emklla tried a new tac k in his <I tte rn pt
to learn aboutthe X o rth. l ie tu rned 10 <I h ighh rccouuncudcd Fr anciscan
pries t, M arcos d e :\ i/,<I , who ha d recen tly amvcd in M exico City. vl a rcos
agreed to attempt a northern reco n n a issa n ce . ,\ ga in , Mendoz a te lls th e
xtorv in his own words ill his ] ,N le tter to th e kin g, lie relate s tha t a ftn th e
D orau tcs pla n colla pse d , "a bla ck w ho came with D oran tcs remai ned with
me. [Also th ere \1 ere] som e slaves I had bought, and sonic lndians I h ad
recruited [\\J )() were J natives of those [no rthe rn ] regi olls, T h e.~ e [peo ple ]
I SCIlt wi th J<'ra ~ M arcos de :\ ita ami a companion ofhis, a [Fra n ciscan ]
ecele;ii<l stic. them ] lu-causc thcv ,HC men who h'J\T lx-cu in th is
part of th e wo rld a l o n ~ while. accustomed to labor, [h <l l'ing ] experience
with matte rs in th e In die s" (F lillt and Hint 200:;,47),
T h e sim ple romuscnt "a bluck . . . remained with m e" hides a d ramatic
tu lc. V ice roy \ Icndoza IS usual ly descr ibed as s i mpl ~' !lining hough t F StC\',lll
as a servant fro m An dres l)or;J1ltes, But a c-hronicle written in ] ,S4 In ';J
historiannamed Obregon reveals tha t Fs tcva n was a valuable conuuoditv.
It sa ~ s tha t D orautcs "was \'cry gri eved a t bei llg a sked that E stcva u shou ld
serve the viceroy. l ie \\ollld n ot release him for ,00 pesos, \\hi c1l the vic-crru
sent on a plate of silver, bu t then said hc was Id lin g for E stcva» to SCT\'C the
viccrov il l th e ua tuc of Il is Maicstv, withou t pacrucut. becam e of th e good
tha t lll i ~ ht be done for the souls o f th e native peoples of those [no rthe rn]
lands ami also beca use o f th e good th al llligh t acc rue 10 the ro ya l est a te"
(sec Aiton }()27 ). So Lstcvan th c .\ Ioor se em s to h:JH: been "onloan" to th e
viceroy's p ro posed expedi tion. F ste\ ,lI l \\ <1 S <1 crucial player, since hc had
already travel ed ill IIrc mysterio us uorthcmlands and had proved his worth
us he established rapport am ol1g the nor thern l'i11age.s ,
,I'I Ic vi cc roy's plan f 11a II y 111 a tc ria li -ed. .vla rcos would de p<l rt qu ic fIy, 11 0 t
uulv w i th Estovan th e \ 1 OOT, \d 1O had ulrcadv traver sed much o f the conn-
trv, bu t also Ivith some of tire In dia ns who had come so uth wi th C abcxa de
vaca's pa rtv . Marcos's miuicvpcduion also included a l a~ broth er na tucr]
O norato and, ah noxt s u rel y, a handful of other tumanu'r] assistan ts, 111C.S-
.'i en gCTS, ;JI1 d servants fro m \ lcxi c o Ci ty, T h e y would travel nor th, assure
th c India ux tha t the slave raiders we re gOlle , reconnoi ter tire lan ds, and fin d
out if there really was <1no ther \\'C<1 1t Ir ~' empire and, if so , hO\l to get the re .
' l ite viceroy also orde red them 10 iuvcstigat c the COl dig nratiol l o f th e coast
<H Id to se n d re ports hack along th e I\ 'a~' by 111es.~ ellgers. I,' iu ally, they we re
to re turn and report in secret on ly to \-I en do / ,f.

Copynghtad malarial
144 • Chapter4

Secrecy was essential, because the race to the north was heating up.
Stories of the Cabeza de Vaca trek were circulating, along with the earlier
rumors of northern cities obtained by Guzman and Cortes. Various parties, CHAPTER FIVE
not to mention Cortes, with his shipbuilding yards on the coast, were orga-
nizing to explore the North on their own. Cortes had already side-stepped
official orders. Who would get there first?
ByAugust 1538 Mendoza had his plan ready to go. To maintain order on
The Case of the "Lying Monk"
the northern frontier and fill the gap left by the arrest of Guzman, Mendoza
appointed a promising young friend, Francisco Vazquez de Coronado,
as the new governor of the northwest frontier, a province then known as
Nueva Galicia (New Galicia, named after a province in Spain). Nueva
Galicia included Guzman's headquarters town of Compostela and the even
more distant northwest coastal outpost of Culiacan.
Francisco Vazquez, known later simply as Coronado, has an uncertain
early history. His biographer Herbert Bolton estimates that he was born in
1510, making him twenty-eight years old when he assumed the governor-
ship (1949,19). Now we come to the heart of the strange story of the man whom Viceroy
In September 1538 the young governor left Mexico City for his new Mendoza picked to explore the northern frontier: Fray Marcos de Niza,
post, taking with him Marcos de Niza, Onorato, Estevan de Dorantes, the which is to say, Friar Marcos from Nice, the beautiful city on the French
crowd of northern Indians, and probably various unnamed servants. They Mediterranean coast. According to all the viceroy's sources of information,
headed first for the governor's headquarters in Compostela and then contin- he was a good choice. He'd already served in Peru, where his fellow priests
ued to Culiacan, The 1538 departure date from Mexico City is important elected him as custodio, or manager of his local order. He was willing to
in terms of later events. This date is known from a letter written in the criticize conquistadorial outrages there. He had visited the first bishop of
next month by an obscure priest named Ximenez, quoted by the historian Mexico, Juan de Zumarraga, in April 1537, and the bishop promptly wrote
Henry Wagner in 1934. From the point of view of Spaniards in Mexico a glowing testimonial, saying that Marcos was "a great religious person,
City, therefore, 1538 was the date of departure for Marcos's expedition to worthy of credit, of approved virtue, and of much religion and zeal" (quoted
explore the North. When Marcos submitted his final report on this effort, by Wagner 1934, 198). The minister provincial of New Spain also recom-
however, he began it with his departure from Culiacan in 1539. Thus, mended Marcos for the trip north, saying he was "esteemed by me and my
while contemporaries saw his journey as a 1538 expedition, later historians brethren of the governing deputies ... and held suitable ... for making this
associated it with 1539-a point that led to spurious later accounts of a journey ... because of the aforesaid sufficiency of his person [and also] for
separate 1538 expedition (Nallino and Hartmann 2003). being learned-not only in theology, but also in cosmography [the art of
The first deliberate reconnaissance of the fabled North (the future navigation]" (Flint and Flint 2005, 67).
United States) was now under way.If a golden empire really existed, Viceroy Nearly a year after Marcos left Mexico City, he returned to report good
Mendoza, Governor Coronado, and their inner circle would soon know. lands and the first European sighting of a multistoried trading community.
But would Marcos de Niza learn something before Cortes's ships came Cibola, it was named. As a result of this discovery, which confirmed Span-
back with a rival claim on the northern lands? Whose claim would the ish dreams, Marcos gained immense popularity. By late 1539 he was touted
king honor? If Cortes did get there first, would he proceed with military as heir apparent to become the second bishop of all of Mexico. In 1540 he
conquest and slaughter, as happened in Tenochtitlan and Peru? helped lead the mighty Coronado expedition back to Cfbola.
Then disaster struck. Late in 1540 Marcos came back from the Coro-
nado journey in disgrace. Soldiers of the expedition insulted him to his
146 • Chapter 5 The Caseof the "Lying Monk" • 147

face, and he went down in the history books as a liar, a fraud, the first Great he reached only as far north as the modern Arizona-Sonora border, turned
American Con Man. He had lied to everyone about Cibola, according to back, and made up the rest of his story by exaggerating information he'd
the gossip. In the 1800s, however, a few investigators came to his defense. received from local people along his route.
As early as 1886, the historian-archaeologist Adolph Bandelier wrote that The "Case of the Lying Monk" is complicated by the fact that most
"Fray Marcos ... has been treated as an exaggerator, even, to put it bluntly, twentieth-century popular accounts said Marcos came back to Mexico
as a liar, an impostor. ... [Yet,] as for those of his writings that remain to reporting vast treasures of gold in Cfbola and single-handedly motivated
us, their facts are surprisingly accurate" (Bandelier [1886] 1981, quoted the Coronado expedition under false pretenses. The reality is that we have
by Rodack 1981,98-99). American historian George Parker Winship, in notarized copies of Marcos's official report, and they never mention gold
a 1904 book about Coronado (republished in 1990), offered criticisms of in Cibolal From what we know now, the descriptions that Marcos recorded
Marcos but agreed that "Friar Marcos was not a liar" (1990, 21). in his relaci6n-people, coastline, turquoise jewelry, even the multistoried
Later in the twentieth century, however, three major historians shot back towns of stone construction-were essentially correct.
with prodigious rhetoric, creating the dominant twentieth-century view This chapter is thus different from the other chapters because we have
that Marcos was a charlatan. Here is University of California geographer- a mystery on our hands. Can we trust our sources? Did Marcos really run
historian Carl Sauer touching off the argument in 1932: out of time and make up his tale? Did the discovery of the Seven Cities
of Cfbola involve a colossal hoax? If not, then how did a Widely respected
The paucity and confusion of data as to terrain, as to direction, distances, priest end up in history books as a conniving liar? In this chapter, we're
and ... latitude, make [Marcos de Niza's relaci6n, or report] easily the trying to understand not only Marcos the man but the vicissitudes of how
worst geographic document on this frontier, and indicates either that history is made. In my citations, I rely mainly on the definitive translation
Brother Mark was an amazing dunderhead or that he indulged in delib- by New Mexico scholars Richard and Shirley Flint and cite some of their
erate obfuscation.... If we subscribe to the old theory that he was an page numbers; however, I have been influenced also by other translations
arrant swindler, it is perhaps more charitable to leave him in that role, and occasionally synthesize (combine) the various translations or abridge
rather than have him also a fool who had no business to wander about them to get a clear, concise meaning of what the author was saying. Mar-
in strange places. (1932, 30) cos's narrative, in particular, is so linear that interested readers will be able
to find the passages in Flint and Flint (2005) or in any other translation
University of California historian Henry Wagner followed Sauer's lead they may have.
with his blistering critique of Marcos in 1934, writing that "such people
... are simply victims of their own imaginations or hallucinations" (227).
Self-described "free-lance" New Mexico historian Cleve Hallenbeck fol- Marcos the Man: 1495?-1558
lowed with a key book about Marcos in 1949. He wins the "Malign Marcos"
prize with his talk about Marcos's "whopping falsehoods" ([1949] 1987, What a life Marcos lived! He grew up in Europe but was uniquely related
70), "mendacity" (76), and "disregard for most of his instructions" (85). to all three of the major American conquests. He arrived in recently con-
His index includes "Marcos ... hallucinations of' and "sanity of" (113). quered Tenochtitlan and was sought out by Cortes, he traveled with Pizarro
Hallenbeck's final sentences: "I confess that I have been harassed by the in Peru, and, finally, he led Coronado into what is now the United States.
suspicion that the friar's more recent defenders have espoused his cause ... (Viceroy Antonio Mendoza is another member of this small club. He served
as a 'comedy relief from their staid work as professional historians.... It is with Cortes, organized the Coronado expedition, and then briefly served as
difficult for me to believe that any careful student of the twentieth century viceroy in Peru in 1551-1552, about two decades after Pizarro's conquest.)
would seriously defend Marcos.... So let us pigeonhole 'The Lying Monk' Not much is currently known about Marcos's early years, although
with the other Munchausens of history" (95). still-undiscovered documents may exist in Mexico, Spain, or France. My
The basic objection of these three historians was that Marcos de Niza colleague Michel Nallino, who lives in Nice, is Marcos's primary modern
did not have time to complete the trip he reported. Therefore, they said, biographer and has assembled the known information in a magnificent
148 • Chabter 5 The Case of the "Lying Monk" • 149

Web-based multivolume biography in French (Nallino 2012). A Franciscan The monastery no longer survives, but Michel Nallino took me to the site,
priest and historian, Pedro Oroz, around 1585 collected sorne sketchy, located amidst the modern bustle of cars on the Rue de France.
early notes about Marcos (as referenced in a 1584 book cited by Wagner in Oroz recorded that Marcos left Europe for Ame rica in 1531. The young
1934), saying that Marcos was bom in Aquitaine, a province in the south priest arrived, likely thirty-something years in age, in a world as alien as
of France. As for Marcos's birth date, the Encyclopedia Britannica and Pluto or Purgatory. Oroz said he landed in the Spanish colony on the
Nallino (2012) cite the year 1495, but I've found no other confirmation of Caribbean island of Española and then proceeded to Peru. French his-
that. Marcos said in a 1546 letter that he was an orphan. He was educated torian Micha) Nallino confirms that Marcos arrived in Peru in 1531, the
in a monastery named Sainte-Croix in Nice, perhaps having been left there, year before Pizarro's third, best-known expedition. He was regarded well
hence "Marcos de Niza." While Nice is now in France, it then belonged enough to be elected commissary, or manager of supplies. According to
to the province of Genoa, in Italy. As a boy, he experienced the exciting documents published in the mid-l 500s by the priest-historian Bartolomé
years when the idea of a New World was being born in European minds. de Las Casas, Marcos was aghast at the behavior of the conquistadors and
testified a few years later about their atrocities against the Incas and their
leader, Atahualpa:

1, Fray Marcos de Niza, of the order of St. Francis, commissary in Peru

over the friars of that order ... speak out in order to give a truthful
account of certain matters which 1sawwith my own eyesin that country.
Through various experiences 1 found out that the lndians of Peru are
among the most benevolent people that have been found among al! the
lndians .... They are friendly toward the Christians and 1 saw that they
gavethe Spaniards an abundance of gold, silver,and precious stones, and
everything asked of them, whatever they possessed or could be helpful.
Their great lord, Atahualpa, gavethese Spaniards more than two million
in gold and al! the country in his possessionvery soon after the Spanish
entered that country.
Yet, soon after Atahualpa gave the Spaniards his gold, and without
provocation from the Indians, the Spaniards executed him .... They also
burned the feet of another lord of Quito, Aluis, and tortured him in other
ways,to force him to revea! any additional gold of Atahualpa, a treasure
of which it seems he knew nothing.
1 also know of an incident where the Spaniards collected a number
of lndians and shut them up in three large houses ... and then set fire
to them and burned them ali.... One of our priests, Ocaña, rescued
one boy from the fire, but along carne another Spaniard, who threw him
back, where he was reduced to ashes like the rest. ...
In God and my conscience, so far as 1 can understand, the only
reason that the Indians of Peru rose in revolt was because of the bad
treatment-a fact that is clear to everybody.... They determined to die
rather than to suffcr such trcatment. (abridgcclfrom Las Casas [ 1552]
1992; scc also Hurtmunn 2002)
150 • Chapier 5 The Case of the "Lying Monk" • 151

Las Casas quotes additional Marcos reports from Peru in this vein. Such report back in secret. Marcos agreed, and the expedition left Mexico City
reporting was hardly popular among the conquistadors. Marcos moved in September 1538.
from place to place amidst those years of carnage. In 1534 he was with a On 20 November, far from prying eyes in Mexico City, Governor Coro-
side expedition in Ecuador led by none other than Pedro de Alvarado, "the nado handed Marcos a set of sealed instructions from Viceroy Mendoza.
Sun" of Cortés's army in Mexico, who, fourteen years before, had ordered This bit of stealth was presumably designed to keep information about the
the disastrous slaughter of the dancers in Tenochtitlan, arguably leading expedition from reaching Cortés and the excitable young adventurers swarm-
to the destruction of the whole city. Alvarado, for his troubles, had been ing the streets of Mexico City. The secret instructions have been preserved
appointed governor of Guatemala. According to Nallino (private commu- in Spanish archives and are usually appended to Marcos's relación. They
nication, 2012), Marcos probably headed to Guatemala in a party with forma crucial document, because they reveal Mendoza's vision, interests,
Alvarado in 1535. By September 1536, Marcos showed up at legal inquiries and suspicions about the North, including lands of the future United States:
in Guatemala, testifying against the conquistadors' outrages.
Nallino notes that Marcos probably crossed paths at that time with Tell the Indians that I send you in the name of His Majesty, to see that
Bartolomé de Las Casas, but they may even have met as early as 1531 in they are treated well. And saythat he grievesbecause of the wrongs they
Peru, allowing chances for Las Casas to collect Marcos's comments. Later, have suffered. Anyone who does evil to them will be punished. Assure
around 1560, Las Casas confirmed (in his massive Apologetíc Hístory of the them they will no longer be made slaves or removed from their lands,
Indies) that he had known Marcos well (see Wagner and Parish 1967). Las but will be free, and that they should put aside any fears and recognize
Casas may have been the one who recommended Marcos to the elderly God, Our Lord, who is in heaven, and the King, who is placed on earth
bishop of Mexico, Juan de Zumárraga. by God to govern it. ...
When Zumárraga heard the good reports about Marcos, he invited If, with the aid of God, you find a route to enter the country beyond,
Marcos to Mexico City. A few months later, Zumárraga's April 1537 letter take with you Estevan Dorantes as a guide, whom I order to obey you in
noted that Marcos had visited Zumárraga "in my house." There, Marcos was ali that you command. If he fails to do so, he shall incur penalties....
surrounded by the bustling transformation of the ruined Aztec city into a Francisco Vázquez de Coronado has with him the Indians who carne
Spanish city only sixteen years after Tenochtitlan's destruction by Cortés. At from the northern lands with Dorantes. If it seems advisable to both of
the bishop's urging, Marcos signed another testimonial against the "crimes you, take sorne of them in your company, and employ them as you see
and cruelties" of Peru. Zumárraga said they wanted to "puta stop to these fit to the service of Our Lord.
conquests, which are opprobrious injuries to our Christianity [because] there Always arrange to travel as securely as possible. Inform yourself in
have been ... as many butcheries as there have been conquests" (Wagner advance if the Indians are at peace or if sorne are at war with others. Give
1934, 196-97). Zumárraga sayshe also took Marcos to see Viceroy Mendoza. them no occasion to commit any violence toward you, which would be
Marcos was thus visiting Viceroy Mendoza in 1537, just at the time cause for punishing them .... Take much care to observe the following:
when Mendoza was hatching his plan to getAndrés Dorantes and Estevan people who are there, if they are many or few, and if they are scattered
de Dorantes to lead a party to explore the North before Cortés could gain or live in communities; quality and fertility of the soil; climate of the
the upper hand. After Mendoza gave up on sending Dorantes north, he country; trees and plants and domestic and wild animals; nature of the
turned in 1538 to Marcos as the man who could do the job. ground, whether rough or level; rivers, if large or small; minerals and
metals that are there. If there are any things that you can send or bring as
specimens, bring them or send them, so that His Majesty can be advised
Marcos Gets the Viceroy's Orders: Autumn 1538 of everything. (the instructions listed here and below are adapted from
the more complete translation by Flint and Flint 2005, 65-66)
Marcos was now probably in his early forties-older than many conquis-
tadors, but not too old for more adventures. As described in chapter 4, Next carne the comrnancl, unclerappreciatecl toclay, to learn about the
Mendoza's proposition was that Marcos would lead a quiet expedition and coast:
152 • Chapter5 The Case of the "Lying Monk" • 153

Always inquire about knowledge of the coast, whether north or south, north, recorded islands and often spoke of his attempts to gather coastal
because the land may become narrower [i.e., Mexico might be an information. Marcos was clearly thinking about the coast. A key example
island-WKH) or sorne arm of the sea may run into the interior of the is an incident when he was told of an inland region that might have gold.
land [see map 7a). If you come to the coast of the South Sea [the Pacific He says in his relación that "as this region is away from the coast, and as
Ocean], bury letters about noteworthy matters on selected promontories my instructions are not to depart from it, 1 decided to leave that [inland]
at the foot of sorne prominent tree, and on such trees make a cross so that region for my return" (Flint and Flint 2005, 68). This suggests that Marcos
it can be seen. Likewise, on the largest trees at the mouths of rivers, and stayed to the west during his northern trip but took a more direct, inland
in situations suitable for harbors, make this same sign and leave letters, route during his return. In any case, Marcos remembered his instruction
because if we send ships, they will be advised to look for such signs. to favor the coast, even if reputable historians forgot about it.

Then carne an instruction that would play an important role later in the
strange saga of Marcos's future reputation: "Always try to arrange to send Toward the Frontier: December 1538
information by the lndians, telling especially how you are faring, how you
By December 1538 Coronado, Marcos, and his party were at Compostela,
are received, and especially what you find. If God is so pleased that you find
the governance center ofNew Spain's northern frontier (see map 8). Coro-
a grand settlement, where you think there are good materials to build a mon-
nado wrote to the king on 15 December (his Julian calendar dating), saying
astery, where religious officials could be sent ... then ... inform [me] vía
that he planned to leave for the extremity of Euro-Christian civilization,
lndians or retum yourself to Culiacán in complete secrecy and inform me, Culiacán, on 23 December.
so that appropriate steps can be arranged without [any] commotion." This
Months later (15 July 1539), Coronado wrote another letter to the king,
secrecy, if maintained, would insure that Viceroy Mendoza would receive
shedding optimistic light on the frontier situation. He told how lndians
the news befare potential rivals. In an additional instruction, Mendoza tried
near Culiacán had "rebelled" against Guzmán in 1536 and that in 1538
more explicitly to preempt any rival claims on the northern land, adding a bit they had been
ofEuropean hubris and Christian exceptionalism: "Though the land already
belongs to our lord the Emperor, you should formally take possession of it on occupying the mountain ranges because of their uprising. They had no
behalf of His Majesty in my name. Make the proper signs and ceremonies, and houses nor did they plant crops, but now [mid-1539) they are building
inform the natives that there is one God in heaven and an emperor on earth houses, and preparing fields. They have returned to their accustomed
to govern the land, and that everyone must be his subjects and serve him." locations, but with much reduced population.
As I've remarked, many twentieth-century historians virtually ignored that lnto this province 1 brought with me a Franciscan, Fray Marcos de
Mendoza was considering a two-pronged land/sea expedition and ordered Niza. Viceroy Mendoza recommended that 1bring him inland, as per
Marcos to investigate the seacoast. For example, Hallenbeck, in his pivota! your Majesty's order to reconnoiter the coast of this New Spain by land,
book on Marcos, stupefyingly denies that Marcos was ever urged to explore in order to learn what secrets, lands, and people are there.
the coast. Hallenbeck claims that "Marcos was not [Hallenbeck's emphasis]
instructed to visit the coast" but only to "inquire always for information ... Note once again that, contrary to Hallenbeck and Sauer, Coronado says
and if perchance he carne to the coast, to leave evidence" ([l 949] 1987, 84). that Marcos, as per royal orders, was going there to "reconnoiter the coast."
This paraphrase disingenuously pretends that any coastal encounter would This and the next passages from the letter are abridged and adapted from
have been a lucky by-product of Marcos's expedition. In reality, Mendoza the Flint and Flint translation (2005, 39-40), with a nod toward the shorter
clearly wanted such information from Marcos, even instructing him how to translation by Hammond and Rey (1940), telling how Coronado prepared
leave messages for ships and post signs at potential harbors. for the beginning of Marcos's epic journey northward:
In this same vein, severa}historians, notably Carl Sauer in 1932, investi-
gated a later, colonial-era northward route that stayed inland. They assumed In order that Marcos might travel safely, 1sent sorne Indians from among
that Marcos had to travel on that route, even though Marcos, on his way thc siaveswhom thc viccroyliad frecd, lo thc townsof Pctatláu [seemap 81
The Case of the "Lying Monk" • 155

and also Cuchillo, located nearly 60 leagues [140 to 180 miles] beyond
~ Culiacán. I told them to summon nativesfrom those towns and tell them
not to be afraid. As a result, and also because the messengers were free
~ SI~~
o::.) t.r¡ men, which amazed them, more than 80 men carne to see me.
e ~~7
I explained YourMajesty's royal will (which, for now, is that you want
~~'-.:¡~ only for them to become Christians and know God and your Majesty as
;::i l.,¡,__~ -1 ,,r··.
e SI~~ their lord). Then I directed them to take Fray Marcos and Estevan into
V') ~ ~11,l"'f""~"~~ the interior of the land, in complete safety.They did this justas I asked,
treating them most excellently.
>,~~ (,
'-.) Viceroy Mendoza summarized the situation in a letter to the king,
~ undated but also written in 1539. He described the Indians who had come
~ to visit Coronado:
They said they represented all their people, who wanted to leam about
the newcomers who were doing them so much good, and allowing them
~ to retum to their homes, and letting them plant maize. After all, they'd
been in flight in the mountains for severa!years, hiding like wild beasts
for fear of being enslaved....
Coronado comforted them with kind words, fed them, and had them
stay for three or four days. During those days the ecclesiastics [Marcos
and associates?- WKH] taught them to make the sign of the cross and
say the name of our lord, [esus.... Then Coronado sent them home,
telling them not to fear, but to remain calm. He gavethem clothes, rosary
beads, knives, and other such things which I had supplied for this pur-
pose. They departed well pleased, sayingthat whenever he sent for them,
they and many others would come and do whatever I might command.
When the groundwork for the entrada [entrance into a region] had
thus been prepared, and Marcos and his companions had spent ten or
twelvedayswith the Black Moor and other slavesand Indians I had given
him, they departed. (abridged and adapted from the translation by Flint
and Flint 2005, 48)

-+-"" (J.)
e:: ~ 8
"' i::
.a e B ·°ª ~ -:S (J.)
,_ ~
ª' • Marcos's Journey and Why lt Matters: 1538-1539
"''"O o ca i:: _e.o"" ca '"V'\ ca i::U . ..e
J::v "'8 ;__ "' 8 ·- u § ~ ..s -i:: o
~ 8 uº uo ....
~ ¡;¡ ..e
él o v .s:
~ :~
..e •..••... •..•
o '"O i::
u ..e .•......e
O" • ~
0 ~
i:: u Marcos and his companions were now on their way north. The main source
~ o ~ C3 ·¡;: 00 (!) 2ª -~ ti ;, ••...8 '- - >:oi:: of information we have about his joumey is Marcos's own relación, which
. ·- . i:: (!)ff\ ..e ·- ..e ..e (!) (!)·- o -
1::1- N 008
o...0 o...t:: "'~ was handed to Mendoza and officially notarized in 1539 at the end of the
0 0~
~~izo~Jg.s~~~~g.g;~ ioumey. lt is chatty, relaxed, entertaining, ami secmingly open-hearted and
156 • Chapter 5 The Case of the "Lyíng Monk" • 157

displaysa sense ofhumor, but it is skimpy on dates or specific place-names- wording could imply that Cuchillo is "nearly 60 leagues" north, with
perhaps deliberately so, as we'll see. lt offers challenges. Can we reconstruct Petatlán being closer.
Marcos's route, both northward and southward? Can we solve our primary * Marcos mentions "Petatlán and ... Cuchillo, which is 50 leagues
mystery: Did Marcos have time to complete bis journey? Marcos was in a from [Culiacán]." The wording again suggests it is Cuchillo that is at
hurry to explore the North and get back to Mendoza, so if bis story is true, 50 leagues, while Petatlán is closer.
he needs to accomplish bis orders without much excess time left over. One * Pedro de Castañeda, the soldier-memoirist with Coronado in 1540,
of my rules has been to follow a Goldilocks principle: His rates of travel gave two different distances for Petatlán -20 leagues and 30 leagues.
can't be impossibly fast, but they can't be too slow, either. They need to be * Juan Jaramillo, a captain in Coronado's army, says it took them four
just right (see sidebar, "How Far Could Marcos Travel in a Day?," p. 159). days to go from Culiacán to Petatlán. At typical rates for the army, this
At many points, we can link the relación to consistent information from makes it 20 to 28 leagues to Petatlán.
the Cabeza de Vaca journey and later accounts from the Coronado expedi- * Jaramillo says they crossed the Río Petatlán after four days and then
tion. Only by taking all the reports together can we construct a latticework crossed the Río Sinaloa three days later. Sorne modern historians
of clues. Adding recent discoveries of artifacts, we can tie clownparts of the assume the Río Petatlán was the river known today as the Río Sinaloa
route in ways that were unknown only a few years ago. but must then claim the names were shifted in position in later
decades. 1see no need for this.

First Steps toward the North: 7 March 1539 Seeking the best fit to all the data, l've assumed that Petatlán was 25 to 30
leagues (62 to 90 miles) north of Culiacán and that Cuchillo was about 55
Marcos, Onorato, Estevan, additional servants, and enthused Native escorts leagues (137 to 170 miles) north of Culiacán.
left Culiacán on Friday, 7 March, according to Marcos's certified relación. To <lealwith the alleged insufficient time for Marcos to complete his trip,
The party headed from Culiacán up the trail toward the Indian villages 1assume Marcos started with a burst of enthusiasm. Moving ata plausible
of Petatlán and Cuchillo, where Guzmán had raided (see map 8). They 21 to 30 miles per <lay,he' d have reached Petatlán on Sunday evening,
were met at various villages with joyful festivity. The porters, carrying their 9 March. (Since Petatlán and Cuchillo were known to the Spaniards, and
baggage, helped them travel fast between villages. since sorne of the Indians with Marcos had come from there, it's conceiv-
Examples of routing issues arose at once. First, the Culiacán of Marcos's able that Coronado sent a mounted party at least as far as Petatlán, in which
time was sorne 30 miles south of the present town (Hallenbeck [1949] l 987, case Marcos might have ridden on a horse or cart and gained as much as a
98, footnote 27). Second, the locations of Petatlán and Cuchillo are now full <layahead of the schedule 1have given him.)
unknown, even though Petatlán was on a river then called by that name. Petatlán was named from a local word for the reed mats used to construct
How far were Petatlán and Cuchillo from Culiacán? Clues are buried in lightweight walls of modest homes throughout the warm coastal plains
several sources, mostly found in the definitive modern translations of Flint (see fig. 4). To supplement figure 4, 1 note that Arizona anthropologist
and Flint (2005). They illustrate the range of uncertainty in this kind of Edward Spicer, writing in 1980 about the Yaqui Indians in this region in
detective work. the l 930s and l 940s, shows a 1942 photo of such a structure, rectangular,
with diagonally woven "twilled cane" mat walls and similar mats on the
* Cabeza de Vaca's reports say the Río Petatlán was 30 or 35 leagues relatively flat roof (bis p. 18). His photo shows one such structure plastered
from Culiacán. over with mud, and Spicer remarks on seeing numbers of these "plastered"
* A 1533 report by Jorge Robledo, who had traveled with Guzmán, structures, which probably explains why Cabeza de Vaca's party and other
cites 50 leagues from Culiacán to the Río Petatlán (as mentioned by later Spaniards recorded sorne buildings as more "perrnanent houses."
Adorno and Pautz 1999, 2:367). Marcos's relación says that "in this town of Petatlán [map 8] 1rested for
* Coronado's letter to the king of 15 July 1539 refers to "the towns of three days because my companion, Fray Onorato, suffered from sickness.
Petatlán and Cuchillo, nearly 60 leagues north of Culiacán." The Because of that, it was advisahle for me to lcave him there" (Flint and
158 • Chapter 5 The Case of the "Lying Monk" • 159

Flint 2005, 67). When Marcos says, "I rested for three days," 1propose that Ali along this part of the trip, Marcos tells how the newly freed Indians
he does not mean a foil seventy-two hours of downtime but refers to the met him "with many hospitalities, and presents of food, roses ... and huts
"three days" he was in Petatlán, namely, Sunday evening, Monday, and they built of mats and brush in the uninhabited clistricts... , arranging ...
Tuesday morning (9-11 March). This may sound like a stretch, but a quirk celebrations and triumphal arches" (Flint and Flint 2005, 67). Celebratory
of history supports the interpretation. Medieval Europeans inherited the arches were widely observed throughout Sonora in later centuries. In the
Roman numerical system, which lacked the use of zero. They thought of l 690s the Jesuit explorer of northern Sonora, Eusebio Kino, hada military
time not so much in terms of true duratíons but in terms of the number of aide, Capt, Juan Mateo Man je, whose cliaryrepeateclly mentions Sonoran
days involved. The most dramatic proof, almost completely unnoticed, líes natives carrying arches cluring joyous welcoming ceremonies in various
at the heart of Christianity. How many days did Jesus líe in his tomb? l've towns. Spicer says that among peoples native to southern Sonora in the
asked many people this question, and they virtually always say "three days." early twentieth century, the arch still connoted "a beautiful part of the
After ali, various Christian creeds state that "on the third day" Jesus rose setting for a ceremony" (1980, 90). He adcls that the arches derived from
from the dead. But the actual duration, explícítly reported in the Bible, was a symbol for the rainbow and were made from cane stalks, freshly cut to
from Friday near sunset to Sunday before dawn-about one anda half days. nine-to-ten-foot lengths, bent over, and tiecl to form an arch six or seven
The early counting system included the first and last day. (The medieval feet high (91, 173). Spicer's page 91 includes a photo of such an arch. The
method of music annotation offers another example. If you play the note descriptions by Man je in the 1690s and Spicer in the l 980s agree perfectly
C on the piano and then move up two steps to E, that interval is called a with Marcos de Niza's account of 1539.
"third," because the conception was to count the C, the D, and the E, even
though there are only two intervals. An "octave" has only seven intervals.)
Even today, if we pack the car on Monday morning, depart on Monday at
noon, and arrive on Wednesday at noon, we may say, "I spent three days SIDEBAR: How Far Could Marcos Travel in a Oay?
getting there," even though the elapsed travel time was only forty-eight As mentioned in the text, the majar charge against Marcos is that he could not
hours. I have no proof that Marcos reported travel in this way, but such have completad his trip in the time available. Therefare, a key factor in recon-
proof may be confirmable in the future from other records. structing Marcos's case is the distance he could travel in a day. My mentions
As for Onorato, he disappears from recorded history, but it's likely that of 20 to 30 miles per day may sound unlikely to sorne readers, but Marcos was
Marcos told him (on Tuesday morning?) to stay there or in Culiacán in an experienced walker. Franciscan priests of the day generally walked instead
order to facilitate the delivery of any of the messages that Mendoza had of traveling on horseback, and Marcos's own party surely did so, at least
ordered Marcos to send back to Mexico City. beyond Cuchillo.
Marcos tells us he now traveled another 25 to 30 leagues (62 to 90 miles) Marcos gives a few dates and positions during his trip north, allowing us
beyond Petatlán, probably to Cuchillo. He gathered information about off- to evaluate his claimed average rates if we try out various locations far those
shore islands, implying that he traveled near the coast. If he departed Petat- reports. Today, far example, we know that Cíbola corresponds to the modero
lán Tuesday morning (after rising to find Onorato still ill) and then arrived pueblo of Zuni, New Mexico, as first identified by the Swiss-American geog-
on Thursday evening, 13 March, the rate would be about 22 to 32 miles rapher Adolph Bandelier as early as the 1880s (Bandelier [1886) 1981,85-98;
per clay-another burst of speed, since Marcos had rested ali day Monday. Rodack 1981,34-35). According to historian Cleve Hallenbeck ([1949] 1987,46),
In a touching comment, Marcos says that the people native to this area Marcos covered about 1,029trail miles north from Culiacán to Cíbola/Zuni. Mar-
had become "more skillful in hiding themselves than in planting." This cos's report indicates that he required forty-five to fifty-four days of cumulative
proves he was still in the zone ravaged by Guzmán. He says he saw nothing northward travel (not counting days when he said he had halted). This gives an
worth discussing in his relación-probably because the region was already average of 19to 23 miles per day far the days when he was actually on the trail.
known to the Spaniards. The clistances suggest he hacl arrived at the Río Marcos gives little detail about the return trip, but in one place, as we'll see, he
Fuerte, which I measure at aboul 141 lrail miles from old Culiacán (fol- continued
lowing prcírccway roads on Mcxican road maps; scc map 8).
160 • Chapter 5 The Case of the "Lying Monk" • 161

Crossing the "Guzmán Frontier": Mid-March 1539 the same knowledge. Therefore, the transitional zones-particularly the
Cíbola frontier-probably corresponded to relatively uninhabited zones
Marcos's journey took him across three different frontiers (see map 8). between major rivers.
The first was the Spanish settlement frontier at Culiacán-the northem- After leaving Cuchillo, Marcos crossed the Guzmán frontier. This cor-
most Spanish outpost ofNew Spain. The second frontier was the Guzmán responded to what he called a four-day despoblado, probably traveling on
frontier, which was the rough, northernmost limit where the local people Friday (14 March), Saturday, Sunday, and Monday (17 March). Despo-
knew about the Spaniards and their slave-raiding parties. The third frontier, blado is a wonderful Spanish term from the l 500s. It refers to a depopulated
still farther north, was what we'l] call the Cíbola frontier, the zone dividing area, usually a stretch of upland between river valleys. Despoblados were
where Cíbola was known from where it was unknown. common landscape features in northern Mexico and the southwestern
Along river valleys on the Cíbola route, lndian villages were typically United States, and even today, a driver along highways in the western
dotted a few miles apart. Most people in a given valley would thus share United States passes through many despoblados. A three-day despoblado

remarks on fleeing a dangerous situation at8to 10leagues per day on severa! con- Other examples support such rates. Bertrand Russell, in his autobiography,
secutiva days, implying that this was toward the upper end of his normal range. refers to a "walking tour of Devonshire." He asked his companion, a "terrific
This amounts to 20to 31trail miles per day when Marcos pushed himself. Marcos walker," to promise to be content with 25 miles per day, but after sorne days his
would not have reportad these ratas if they were considerad impossible by his companion left him, complaining that now he must really "have a little walking."
contemporaries. Another example comes from an account of hiker Bob Payne (1987),who con-
Are such rates plausible in terms of modern experience? Yes. Hallenbeck siderad himself not particularly experienced but decided to walk from Boston
([1949] 1987,43-44) stated that seasoned walkers can cover 25 to 30 miles per to New York. According to his account, he covered 16 miles per day on his first
day on a smooth, firm trail. He also asserts that indigenous people of the region weekend of practica and 30 miles per day on his last weekend of practica six
covered 30 miles per day on a "fair day" but could "maintain ... better than 50 weeks later. On the actual trip, he covered 259 miles on twelve days of walking,
miles a day on [their] own trails." Hallenbeck said that on backcountry hikes of averaging a rate of 22 miles per day. An account of a woman park ranger in Mon-
a week or more, 20 miles a day was a good rate for him, and 25 miles per day tana refers to her frequent walks of "20 miles in a day" as part of her job, "while
was "exceptionally tast," Hallenbeck tended to portray Marcos asan aged man a 40 mile trek isn't exactly uncommon" (Marston 2011).
traveling rough trails, but he ignores Marcos's statement that he traveled on a Basad on these and other accounts, 1assume that Marcos could easily man-
"road" (i.e., a well-used lndian traill and had lndian friends guiding him, carrying age 17to 22 miles per day in rough country, 22 to 25 miles per day for sustained
his supplies, and making camp. marches in smoother country, and 25to 31 miles per day for a few days ata time
Another historian, George Undreiner, writing in 1947,assigns 25miles per day when in a hurry. The maximum rate 1assign matches the rate Marcos reportad
as typical for Marcos and supports his claim with the case of the hardy south- as he fled for his lite. These are all "road miles," not air line miles. Asan example,
western explorar Charles F. Lummis, who in 1884-85 "trarnped" (according to the "road mileage" cited by Hallenbeck from Mexico Cityto Compostela is about
Lummis's article title) from Cincinnati to Los Angeles. Undreiner has him covering 1.35times greater than the air line mileage, a representativa ratio that allows for
3,507miles in 143days, for an average of 25 miles per day. 1checked and found the twists and turns of a ground route.
a road distance from Cincinnati through New Mexico to Los Angeles, estimated Assuming these ratas, we need only calculate whether Marcos could have
on modern Web-based calculators as 2,180to 2,370 miles. This is about 3,500 done what he said he did. At various points in the text 1offer quantitative tests to
kilometers, suggesting that Undreiner confused the units. My numbers give an show that the dates, assigned locations, and distances indicated by Marcos are
average travel rate of 15to 16miles per day for 143days, or 18to 19miles per day consistent with the above travel rates. 1believe this kind of test is more rigorous
on the trail, with one day of rest per week-plausible and still impressive. than has been done in other reconstructions and critiques of Marcos's journey.
162 • Chapter 5 The Case of the "Lying Monk" • 163

for Marcos is reduced to a one-hour despoblado for us as we tool along in up in the air and letting it fall to separate the wheat from the chaff. The
air-conditioned comfort. match-ups with Yaqui words support our idea that Marcos was passing along
The four-day despoblado of the Guzmán frontier was possibly between the Río Yaqui. The name Yaqui was first recorded for that part of the river in
the lower Río Fuerte and the lower Río Yaqui (see map 8). In this region, the following year, 1540, by the Coronado expedition-an indication that
roads are fairly straight and level. The lower Río Mayo would have been the area was associated with Yaqui-speaking people. A tempting speculation
in the middle of this stretch, but according to our reading of Cabeza de is that after Marcos visited a certain village along the river, it carne to be
Vaca's observations in 1536, Guzmán had ravaged this area. The villages known as Soyopa (or Sayopa), associated with the visit of the mysterious
were depopulated and burned, and thin survivors "lived off bark and roots "man from out of the blue."
of trees." According to Coronado's description of conditions when Marcos To summarize, it seems plausible that Marcos, aka Sayota, was now
left Culiacán, Indians in the devastated zone still "had no houses nor <lid moving among Yaqui speakers on the Río Yaqui drainage to the general
they plant [anything]" (Flint and Flint 2005, 39). Hence, to Marcos, that latitude of the village now called Soyopa or Sayopa. He tells us that local
zone was a despoblado. I estímate a road mileage from the Fuerte across villagers welcomed his party with cheerful receptions and gifts of food.
the Mayo to the lower to mid-Yaqui at 120 to 136 miles, depending on He quickly learned that he was moving inland, which fits the way the Río
the portions of the rivers considered. With four full travel days until Mon- Yaqui angles north, away from the northwest-trending coast. The three days
day evening, 17 March, Marcos traveled at about 30 to 34 miles per <lay mentioned could have been Tuesday morning through Thursday afternoón
across this relatively flat area, which is plausible for one of Marcos's fastest or evening (20 March), gaining perhaps 78 to 93 trail miles upstream at 26
marches with his servants and enthusiastic local bearers (see the sidebar to 31 miles per <lay.
"How Far Could Marcos Travel in a Day?"). The first 40 miles (after Marcos encountered the Yaqui speakers on the
Arriving on the Río Yaqui on Monday evening, Marcos met "other Río Yaqui) would be mostly due north to a point where the river forks, near
Indians who marveled at seeing me, because they had no knowledge of the modern town of Cumuripa. Here, Marcos had two choices. The first
Christians, since they have no dealings with those below the despoblado." route would follow the eastern fork (the modern-named Río Yaqui itself),
In other words, he had now crossed the Guzmán frontier. He says these jogging east, then traveling north along the river, where a journey of 40
people "tried to touch me on my clothes and called me 'Sayota,' by which more miles could bring him directly to Soyopa or "Sayopa" (see map 9).
they mean in their language 'man from the sky.' ... Thus I traveled for three The second and more direct route north would continue about 37 miles on
days [among] those same people" (Flint and Flint 2005, 68). the western fork, now known as the Río Tecoripa or Río Suaqui. (Modern
Cabeza de Vaca noted that anything the people "do not have or do Mexican road maps may disagree on names for sorne rivers dueto local tra-
not know the origin of, they say [carne] from the sky" and that the whole ditions along each river segment. After thousands of years oflanguage use,
concept was widespread (Adorno and Pautz 1999, 2:351, 352). lt is similar we are still at the tail end of the era when spellings have not been agreed
to our own idiom that anything unexpected comes "out of the blue." upon!) By Thursday night Marcos could have arrived at the headwaters
Interesting linguistic clues support our idea that Marcos was now some- of that drainage, and by Friday he could have crossed over from the Río
where along the Río Yaqui. Linguists Heidi Harley (University of Arizona), Tecoripa to the next northern drainage, the Río Mátape, as can be seen on
Constantino Martínez Fabián (Universidad de Sonora), and I, in an inter- map 9. Or he might have continued upstream on what is now called the
national project, showed that the term recorded by Marcos as "Sayota" Río Yaqui to the region of Soyopa.
matches a word known to modern Yaqui speakers, so'iia or soita, to refer
to vertical movement, including things falling from above. (The paper has
been submitted to a professional journal and is under review at this writing.) The Lynchpin Town ofVacapa: 21March1539
Furthermore, a modern town on this part of the Río Yaqui is named Soyopa
(map 9). lt has also been spelled Sayopa, even closer to Marcos's spelling. Marcos's next sentences give one of his rare dates and village names. On
We consulted two modern Yaqui speakers, and they recognized the word Friday, "two days befare Passion Sunday," he arrived at "a fairly large set-
so'iia and the town name as relating to movements such as throwing grain tlement they called Vacapa, where they gave me a grand welcome and ...
The Case of the "Lyíng Monk" • 165

~· . -, }lri.zpe ''-'.::- ~ ::· much food." Marcos described Vacapa as having abundant food beca use it
j~f } ~ (:4rispa/Ispa) ~ \ \

h, ;i l~~
~gion of Corazones e ~ was "all irrigated" (Flint and Flint 2005, 68) and lying 40 leagues inland-
aná ~~~'"1"'~J
' \,.-':.::~t about 100 to 124 trail miles. Most scholars now consider his Friday arrival
date to be 21 March by the Spanish Julian calendar (see the sidebar "A
:Marcosde Niza's "Vacapa"
\'f "',, i·''
<Baiiam_icfiio'V'affe de
Cu1!Jpas.?- é
z- ::-- 0
Little Mystery"). This means that he'd been hiking for an exhausting ten

\ ' t:( .. :;.t \)

1'. '- "'· '-;,

J1azocafi~~ ~ .:- / ~ ~ ...,' º"~:;~··e
days of high-speed hiking since leaving Petatlán. Learning from local infor-
mants that he was now moving away from the coast, he decided to rest there
l'Corazones) o ;,/ ? · ~ '','~)~
1 until Easter (known to be 6 April) and to use Vacapa as a base from which

J f:..·::,;f~,\{' to send scouts in different directions in order to understand where to go

next. First, he sent scouts by three routes to the sea, following Mendoza's
instruction to get more reports about the coast. Second, he sent Estevan, his
charismatic servant and ambassador, northward to look for news about "the
'Yaqui 'o Safiiiaiipti :_

{',') () {\\ {;',~~,J
great things we were seeking." Estevan left Vacapa on Sunday (23 March)
"after eating" (Flint and Flint 2005, 68-69).
<Bay DISoyopa) \ \ l ~/~f Marcos now waited for his messengers to return or send information
« ~~ ~,§,",,.....
~~,/ '!•'' from various directions. He probably used this downtime to send bis own
+I ~ messages back to Mendoza as ordered. Vacapa thus becomes an important
ºcfvas~~ (1f
lynchpin in reconstructing Marcos's journey not only because of the known
Cumuripao 'ª'
',;;.r. . J' ~/
tNur: o
date but also beca use of sorne notable news that he received there.
,11 "111,1_,

~¡~ ,.... )~
°-:~::::::':'.~"' ::;~'"
~-,J \ ~~ ~<'1/
~- ,,,
SIDEBAR: A Little Mystery: The Date of Passion Sunday and
Why lt Matters
O P.arry 'l'own :;,.11/~ ~

O ~oámz'Town
("') ""11''
The date Marcos arrived in Vacapa is important because it constrains how far
"'~ north Vacapa could be from Culiacán and Petatlán. The problem is that Marcos
D P.arfl 'Townaiu{ .§:> ~
C> ?-,..... (lL
..X- ~ reported the date only as "two days befare Passion Sunday." That's ambiguous,
..X- because Catholic calendars used in different periods put Passion Sunday either
O 40 9'1.ifes
~ o
I one week or two weeks befare Easter.What was the date of Passion Sunday as
50 'l(jfumeters
••• ~"º understood by Marcos in 1539?
o +i
10Leaoues lf Passion Sunday was only one week befare Easter,then Marcos had plenty of
time-three weeks-to reach Vacapa from Culiacán. In that case, there's no prob-
Map 9. A crucial region in Marcos's journey. If Marcos's relación is correct, his lem with plausible locations far Vacapa. However, if Passion Sunday is two weeks
town of"Vacapa" and the southernmost towns where Cíbola was known must lie befare Easter,then Marcos had only thirteen or faurteen travel days (fifteen full
in this area. This map also details important parts of the Coronado expedition's days minus a day and a half downtime in Petatlán with Onorato) to reach Vacapa.
journey (see chapter 8). Map by Ron Beckwith. That means he had to hustle in arder to reach the latitud e of Soyopa or Mátape.
Recent research on manuscripts of that period, especially by Coronado schol-
ars Richard and Shirley Flint in New Mexico and Marcos biographer Michel
166 • Chapter 5 The Case of the "Lying Monk" • 167

First News of the Great Northern Trade Center: a special meaning in Spanish of that time. Flint and Flint note that it
Late March 1539 denoted a community "among the highest-ranking, most important, and
Iargest settlements" (2005, 12). In Spain, the title had to be assigned by the
Marcos's decision to send Estevan north from Vacapa on 23 March was king. Ciudad is thus often translated as "city," even though sorne examples,
fateful. lt led to success ... and disaster. According to Marcos's relación, from modern hindsight, might better be called "towns" or, more neutrally,
his instructions to Estevan were clear and clever. Estevan was to go no "communities." The messengers relayed Estevan's advice: Marcos should
more than 50 or 60 leagues (125 to 190 miles, or five to nine days) beyond leave Vacapa that very hour to catch up.
Vacapa. He was to gather news about the North and then return, or send One of the messengers had traveled to the North in person. He told
back his news and wait for Marcos. Marcos about seven towns with "grand houses made from stone and lime,
Because Estevan could not write, they agreed on a code, recounted by the smallest having one story with a flat roof, and the others, two and three
Marcos in his relación: "If Estevan got news of a settled and rich land, he stories" (Flint and Flint 2005, 69). Figure 5 reveals the accuracy of this
should stop and send Indians with our signa!: if it was of moderate impor- information. Marcos carefully interviewed this gentleman and Iearned
tance, he would send back a small white cross the size of a hand; if it was exciting new information: there was not only one province of seven cities
great, he would send back a larger cross the size of two hands, and if it was but severa! other comparable provinces.
even grander than New Spain, he'd send me a large cross" (abridged ancl
adapted from the translation by Flint and Flint 2005, 68). He told me so many magnificent things about [that land] that I stopped
Four days after Estevan Ieft, probably on 26 or 27 March, excited mes- believing them until later, [so that] I might see them [for myself]. ...
sengers carne back clown the trail to Vacapa, carrying a cross as high as It was thirty days' journey from where Estevan was to the first city of
a man! They said Estevan had arrived in a village where he had Iearned that lancl, which is called Cíbola. In this first province there are seven
news of "the greatest thing in the world," provinces with big "ciudades" very great cities, ali uncler one lord.... On the facades of the principal
only thirty days to the north of Estevan's Iocation. The word ciudades had houses [are] many ornaments of turquoises. He said there was a great
abundance of this. The people of the cities go about very well dressed.
And he tole!me many other details, both about these seven cities and
about other provinces farther on. Each one ... is much more than these
Nallino in Nice, indicates that Passion Sunday, as then defined, was indeed seven cities. In order that I coulcl learn how he knew ali this, we had
two weeks befare Easter. For example, as pointed out by Richard Flint (prívate much cliscussion,ancl I founcl him a very keen intellect. (translation by
communication), the Wycliffe Bible, from around 1400,when England was Cath- Flint ancl Flint 2005, 69)
olic, refers to Passion Sunday as fallowed by Palm Sunday and Easter. Flint also
pointed out to me an account by the 1517 English traveler Richard Torkington, Marcos now had his first specific confirmation of a northern trade center.
who, while describing a pilgrimage to Jerusalem, referred to Passion Sunday In terms of our analysis, it meant that the thircl frontier, the Cíbola frontier,
on a date two weeks befare Easter. Also, the name given to the Sunday befare lay between Vacapa and the town Estevan had visited, about two days north
Easter in sorne old Spanish manuscripts is Domingo de Ramos, Sunday of the of Vacapa (map 8).
Branches-known in English as Palm Sunday. Marcos was thrilled, but he delayed his departure from Vacapa because
This evidence, then, requires Marcos to get to Vacapa, wherever it was, in he'd promised his coastal scouts that he'd wait for them. "I had determined,"
about thirteen and a half days of actual travel time from Culiacán. My tabulation he said, "always to behave very truthfully toward the people whom 1 was
of road mileage from old Culiacán on Mexican road maps suggests 370 to 380 meeting" (Flint and Flint 2005, 69).
road miles to a plausible Vacapa location either on the RíoYaqui near or north of During the next days, more messengers arrived from Estevan, again
Soyopa or near Mátape, giving a plausible 27 to 28 miles per day for his time on with a cross the size of a man. Estevan insisted (through his messengers)
the trail in his initial energized march to Vacapa. that Marcos shoulcl hurry, because "the lancl we sought was the best and
greatcsl thing cvcr dcscribcd."
The Case of the "Lying Monk" • 169

In a crucial development, Estevan now gave up waiting for Marcos. He

disobeyed his orders and moved onward. In retrospect, we might well ask
why Marcos took the risk of letting him go ahead in the first place. Pedro
de Castañeda, the Coronado chronicler, hinted at an intriguing answer.
We have to caution that Castañeda didn't really know much about Marcos's
trip. For exarnple, Castañeda referred to "friars" in the plural, which tips us
off that he didn't know that Onorato had been left behind. So Castañeda
was probably repeating what he'd heard as gossip along the trail. Nonethe-
0 less, he cheerfully dished the dirt:

It seems that the Black was not going with the support of friars because
he hacl the habit of taking the women whom the lndians gave him, col-
lecting turquoises, and amassing a quantity of both. Still, the Indians in
the settlements through which they passed understood the Black better,
since they had already seen him befare. For this reason Marcos sent him
ahead, to reconnoiter and pacify [the land], so that when Marcos arrived,
he could concentrate on collecting reports about what he was searching
for. (adapted from the translation by Flint and Flint 2005, 387-88)

A Note about lnterpreters: 1530s

How was Marcos able so effectively to interview natives of different areas

with different languages? There are three answers. First, as we've seen,
Cabeza de Vaca indicated a practice of translators moving among local vil-
lages. Second, sorne kind of simple universal language (or sigo language?)
® existed. Third, Marcos had with him local villagers who had traveled south
with Cabeza de Vaca from these provinces.

A Lost Document: April 1539

On Easter Sunday, 6 April 1539, a new group arrived in Vacapa to meet

the strange visitar from the sky.They were painted or tattooed lndians from
the east. They, too, knew of Cíbola and confirmed man y points mentioned
Figure 5. Confirmation of Sonorans' descriptionof Cíbola, as reported by
by Estevan's emissaries. Marcos's own coastal scouts returned the same
Marcosde Niza. (a) Fragment of a wall at the Hawikkusite, matching reports
that the citiesof Cíbola were built of stone. In the finishedpueblos, these walls day, bringing news of poorer people along the shores and of thirty-four
were often plasteredoverwith adobe. 1994photo by the author. (b) Zuni Pueblo offshore islands, whose names Marcos recorded in "another document
in an 1873photo, confirmingthe multistorystructure and ladders,as reporlcclby where 1 [was1 recording the name[s] of the islaneisand settlements" (Flint
Marcos.Photo by T. TT. O'Sullivan, I.ibraryof Congrcss. and Flinl 2005, 69).
170 • Chapter 5 The Case of the "Lying Monk" • 171

Marcos's onetime mention of this additional document is tantalizing. relación was never intended as a full disclosure of routing information
Was it a day-by-day log of Marcos's journey? Did it contain additional but was rather a certification that Mendoza's man reached the North
detailed geographic information about settlements and rivers? Probably it befare Cortés.
was a document for Viceroy Mendoza's eyes only-place-names and asso- Who knows? Perhaps Marcos's missing geographical document might
ciated route information. Recall that Mendoza ordered Marcos to report in still turn up in sorne old box in Mexico City or in the church archives in
secret in order to keep routing information hidden from Cortés and other sorne village-an idea 1played with in my novel about Marcos.
competitors. Marcos's onetime mention of the second document in the
relación may have been a way to record legalistically that he had supplied
additional information. Twentieth-century researchers did not agree. Wag- Marcos Gathers His Own News about Cíbola: April 1539
ner noted that Adolph Bandelier, as early as 1890, had also proposed that
Marcos might have prepared an additional document, but Wagner then Marcos tells us that he left Vacapa on 7 April, the Monday after Easter,
cavalierly claimed that "this of course is irnpossible" (1934, 213). and traveled "that day ... and the next two days." In those two or three
The fact that Marcos refers directly to sorne geographic details in a sep- trail days, he crossed the Cíbola frontier and found the people who'd given
arate list not only counters Wagner's "impossibility" but also answers Carl Estevan information about the seven cities, presumably on the evening of
Sauer's 1932 complaint, cited earlier, that Marcos's relación was "the worst 9 April. Here, probably on the Río Sonora, Marcos excitedly interviewed
geographic document on this frontier." As we'll see, the publicly notarized the villagers:

SIDEBAR: The Location of Vacapa and Why lt Matters travels in 1698-1701,recorded a village there called Bacapa, centered at springs
The location of Vacapa is important because it gives us a chance for a consis- in extreme northwestern Sonora between Sonoyta and Caborca (see maps 9 and
tency check on Marcos's veracity, route, and rate of travel, and it helps locate 10).No later travelers used this name, which now seems irrelevant to the search
the Cíbola frontier, as we'll see below. lf Vacapa is placed too far north, Marcos for Marcos's Vacapa.*
doasn't have time to reach it by 21 March. lf it's too far south, Marcos can get Kino's colleague Juan Mateo Manje said that "Bacapa" comprísed six springs
there easily but won't have enough remaining time to get to Cíbola. Also, it needs and "80 persons, poor and naked, who exist on roots, wild sheep, and deer" ([ca.
to be thirty-two or thirty-three days' travel south of Cíbola, because Estevan (and 1701] 1952, 157),which does not match Marcos's fairly large irrigated town with
later Marcos himself) said that Cíbola was thirty days' travel from a village two to abundant food. My colleague in Nice, Michel Nallino (2012,private communica-
three days beyond Vacapa. tion), also places Vacapa far north, near Nogales, on the present Arizona-Sonora
lnterestingly, in spite of these constraints, Vacapa seems to be one of the border. Quitobac and Nogales are both much too far north for Marcos to have
most well-traveled villages in Mexico. One group of theories places Vacapa too contínued
far south to fit what Marcos said. Carl Sauer (1937b,279) and Cleve Hallenbeck
* In Pimanspeechof that region,the syllable bac (or sometimesa variantl often referred
([1949} 1987), for example, placed Vacapa in the Río Fuerte-Río Mayo region
to a pond,spring, or depression(but reportedlyalso to reed qrass, a house,or a ruined
(see map 8). These theories were based on making it easy for Marcos to reach house-see the entryfor "Bacapa" by FrederickHodgein the Handbook of American lndí-
Vacapa, but they placed it too far from Cíbola and too close to Culiacán to fit the ans North of Mexico [1910]).A modernO'odhamdictionary (Saxtonet al., 1983,61) lists
totality of clues. (As a result, Sauer and Hallenbeck argued that their favored the spelling wahk, definedas "entering; slnk in," as often referring to where water sinks
into the ground.More elaboratemeaningsdependon suffixes.The Norwegianexplorer
Vacapa position proved Marcos a liar.)
Carl LumholtzpassedthroughQuitobacin 1910and recordedthat the O'odhamnamewas
Another group of theories places Vacapa too far north. The historian Father "Vapk(the O'odhamnamefar reeds)ar Váketa"([1912)1971,392).Kino,knowingof Marcos
Oblasser Bonaventure, writing in 1939, placed it in the northwestern comer de Niza'sexplorations,was probablyprimedto hear "Váketa" as Vákapaor, as he wrote,
of Sonora because the famed Jesuit explorar Father Eusebio Kino, during his Bacapa.Laterexplorersrecordadthis tiny settlementas üuitobac.not Bacapa.
172 • Chapter 5 The Case of the "Lyíng Monk" • 173

They told me that from that place they were accustomed to travel to the Here, then, was the first report of migrant workers from Mexico to "El
city of Cíbola in 30 days.... Not just one told me about this, but many. Norte" -the United States. In those days, it seems not to have been the
And they told me in great detail about the grandness of the houses and earth-shaking issue that it is today. Marcos continued:
their form, just as the first [messengersJ told it to me. They told me that
besides the seven cities there are three other reinos [kingdoms], called The people in the town where 1wasali wear fine turquoiseshanging from
Maratta, Acus, and Totonteac. their ears and noses. They say that decorations on the main doorwaysof
1tried to learn why they traveled so far from their homes. They told the buildings in Cíbola are made from these stones. They said the men
me that they went for turquoises, [bison) hides, and other things.... of Cíbola wear a cotton shirt, reaching to the instep of the foot, with a
(1asked what they traded for those things.] They told me [it was) their button at the throat with a tassel hanging from it. ... It seemed to me
sweat and their personal service. (adapted from the translation in Flint like a Bohemian outfit. They go around with belts of turquoise. On top of
and Flint 2005, 70) the shirts sorne wear verygood mantles or blankets. Others wear buffalo

reached if he left Culiacán on 7 March. Nogales, only twenty days' travel from of the Cíbolafrontier. Corazoneswas on the Río Sonora (see chapter 8). But
Cíbola, based on later historical records, violates the constraints listed below.* Vacapa was two or three days south of the Cíbolafrontier, according to the
Marcos's relación survives as a trustworthy docurnent only if Vacapa is rnid- ítem above.
way between the extremes of north and south in the central Sonora region of • Vacapa was probably only a few days frorn Corazones. Pedro de Castañeda
Mátape and Soyopa. This follows our Goldilocks principie. lt's not too far south describes the Coronado arrny rnoving north frorn Corazones, and in the next
and not too far north. lt's just right. The clues that narrow down the location of sentence, he rnentions passing through a "province called Vacapan." Taken
Vacapa can be sumrnarized as follows: literally, this would put "Vacapan" north of Corazones, which we reject
because of the previous two clues, VacapaNacapan, however, could have
• Vacapa was no more than about fifteen days north of Culiacán (thirteen and
been a province narne for a broad region around Corazones. Alternatively,
a half days of fast rnarch plus one and a half days of rest in Petatlán).
Castañeda's rnention of "Vacapan" (written twenty years after the fact)
• Since Cíbola was unknown in Vacapa, the village where Estevan learned
rnight have been out of correct sequence dueto a lapse of rnernory.
about Cíbola was probably on a different drainage than Vacapa.
• Vacapa was about 40 leagues (100to 124trail miles) frorn the sea. Marcos
• Vacapa had to be thirty-two or thirty-three days south of Cíbola along the
cited the forty-league distance and confirmad it with an anecdote. He sent
Natives' trade route (i.e., two orthree days south ofthe village where Cíbola
scouts to the coast frorn Vacapa with instructions to bring back inforrnation,
had been reportad to be thirty days away).
and they carne back after thirteen days of travel. Allowing five to six days'
• Vacapa was plausiblytwo orthree days south of sorne partofthe RíoSonora.
travel time each way at 17 to 22 miles per day, we'd have 87 to 132trail
The logic: Cabeza de Vaca indicated that people in Corazones knew of a
miles. We note also that Coronado described Corazones as being five hard
northern trade center with big buildings, rneaning that Corazoneswas north
days' travel frorn the coast. These two sources thus agree that Vacapa and
Corazones are both five or slx days frorn the coast, and this fits with thern
* Nallino solves this by invokíng a letter from Governor Coronado in Culíacán to the viceroy, being within a few days of each other.
saying that Marcos departed Culiacán on "the seventh of the last month, February" (transla-
tion by Flínt and Flint 2005,341.That gives Marcos plenty of time to get wherever we want him
According to these clues, Vacapa could be located either on the upper Río
to be, but it disagrees with Marcos's own notarized statement of a 7 March departure. Fur-
thermore, Coronados letter is known onlythrough an excerpt reproduced in a 1556book by an Mátape near Mátape village or on the upper RíoYaqui (see rnap 9). Mátape, an
ltalian editor, Giovanni Ramusio, who is notorious for incorrect material and later insertions. obscura village today, was one of the rnost irnportant towns on Spanish maps
(See discussion of Ramusio and the translation of the letter in Flint and Flint, 2005,31-34.I contínued
174 • Chapter 5 The Case of the "Lying Monk" • 175

hides, which are considered to be the best clothing. They say there is a Turquoises and ali sorts of green and blue stones ... were a fairly com-
great quantity of these in that land. The women also go about clothed mon ornament among the natives ofZuni ... as in ali the New Mexico
similarly, covered to the feet in the same manner. (adapted from Flint pueblos .... What the lndian informants told Marcos about the tur-
and Flint 2005, 70) quoises set in the doorwaysat Cíbola was absolutely true. This custom
persisted from ancient times. As Mr. Cushing discovered during his stay
Marcos's news that turquoises were worked into doorways in Cíbola is in Zuni, they set small stones of this kind in the wooden frames around
of special interest. Starting as early as 1539, man y commentators charged the entrances, through which they passed by ladders, especially in the
Marcos with exaggerations, this storybeing one of them. Yet,three anda half estufas, or meeting places. Today the custom is falling into disuse. (see
centuries later, Marcos's statement was confirmed by anthropologist Frank Bandelier [1886) 1981, 99 for a slightly different translation by Made-
Hamilton Cushing. Cushing, one of many colorful scholars who carne from leine Rodack)
the east coast to the western frontier in the late 1800s, lived with the Indians
in Zuni for nearly five years in 1879-84. At that time, Zuni was still similar to Cushing's testimony adds evidence that what Marcos recorded in his rel-
the Cíbola of the l 500s, and Cushing found turquoises embedded in door- ación from his Native informants was correct. The exaggeration was in the
ways!Assummarized by anthropologistAdolph Bandelier in an 1886 article, minds of the later readers.

from the 1600sand 1700s.The identity of Mátape with Vacapa was suggested as highway. When Sauer visited the area around 1930,he said it was still the best
early as 1886 by Adolph Bandelier, who noted that Mátape had been known as place in this region to cross the Río Yaqui. This would have been an important
Matapa (with no accent, phonetically similar to Vacapa).* motivation far pausing in Soyopa for two weeks. Marcos could cross easily to
As noted above, if Marcos stayed west toward the coast, he could have taken the northwestern bank and could send messengers in ali directions on either side
the western fark of the Río Yaqui (Río Tecoripa/Suaqui) and crossed over hills of the river. Arizona anthropologist Edward Spicer's 1980study of the area offers
to the Río Mátape. As for distances, Mátape fits Marcos's report that Vacapa supportfar either Mátape ar Soyopa. His map ofthe "probable route of El Camino
was 40 leagues (100to 124miles) inland, beca use it is about 110to 120trail miles Real" (1980,33), the main north-south route through Sonora in the 1700s,shows
up the Río Mátape from the coast. Vacapa must have been somewhere in the it passing up the RíoYaqui through Soyopa, then crossing west past Mátape and
central-right part of map 9. on to the Río Sonora near Ures.
The Soyopa area of the Río Yaqui, mentioned above, is another attractive One more clue is linguistic. One day, looking through a dictionary of the Yaqui
candidate far Vacapa. Historian-geographer Carl Sauer, in his 1932paper, "Ths language (now more properly called Hiaki), 1realizad that "Vacapa" was proba-
Road to Cíbola," wrote that Soyopa, during the Spanish colonial period of the bly Marcos's spelling ot the Hiaki name far the Mexican palo verde tree ( Petkin-
1600sto 1700s,was the majar farda cross the RíoYaqui on the royal north-south sonía aculeata), vaka'apo. My work with linguists Heidi Harley and Constantino
Martínez Fabián supported this. Yaqui/Hiaki was apparently spoken along the
Río Yaqui (hence the name) and possibly at Mátape, but not much farther north.
* The suggested spellings of Mátape are as variable as the suggested locations of Vacapa. Charts of the distribution of the Mexican palo verde by botanist Ray Turner and
The great Jesuit explorar Eusebio Kino shows the name as Matápe on three of his maps
(1685-1696),reproduced by Bolton in 1960(and no accent on a fourth map). Most modern his colleagues (1995)showthe main concentration in the general area ot Mátape
maps spell itas Mátape, but a 1998book of road maps of Mexico in the respectad Guia Roji and along the north-south upper Yaqui/Bavispe drainages. Perhaps the whole
series shows the river as Río Matapé (the village, like many small towns, is not shown). area was known as "Vacapan."
Many other maps, including the 1981 National Geographic World Atlas, which shows all The linguistic clues may also explain why the Cíbola frontier occurred in this
sorts of accent markings, show no accents on Mata pe. Thus, we have examples with any
of the three syllables being accented or none, not to mention Bandelier's "oíd" spelling
interval. According to this idea, Pima speakers from the Río Sonora north traded
of Matapa. with Cíbola; the Yaqui speakers from the RíoYaqui south did not.
176 • Chapter 5 The Case of the "Lying Monk" • 177

As had been happening a few days to the south, the people at the new A third explanation is that Marcos (trying to meet Mendoza's orders)
location tried to touch Marcos's robe, andas with the Cabeza de Vaca party, recorded all his village names and geographic specifics in his separate, secret
"they brought their sick to me so that 1might cure them." Marcos responded document, mentioned previously. When he returned to Mexico City, he
by reciting the Gospels over the patients. He gives us no comments on the turned it over to Mendoza, who then kept geographic details out of the
results but says people gave him bison hides from Cíbola, "so well dressed relación to prevent wildcatters from heading north along the trail. As early
[that] they seemed to have been made by highly civilized men." as 1932, Carl Sauer suggested that "the official Relación may well have been
Success was within Marcos's grasp. The long-rumored northern trade dressed up for official consumption" by adding false claims. I'd suggestit was
center was real, thirty days away, and all he had to do was get there. more of a case of"dressing clown"by deleting route information. According
to this view, Marcos may have passed through Corazones (either when going
north or when going south), but Mendoza insisted on no direct references
Mysteries of Corazones: Spring 1539 to the position of Cabeza de Vaca's now-famous "gateway to the north."
All three explanations may be simultaneously true. Marcos may have
It's curious that Marcos's relación doesn't mention Corazones, which had passed west of Corazones up the Río San Miguel on his way north, absent
been touted by Cabeza de Vaca as a "gateway" to the North. Corazones was Estevan, and then have returned by the more direct Río Sonora, through
important enough that, according to a letter written by Mendoza in Octo- Corazones, on his way south.
ber 1539, Marcos and Governor Coronado had discussed a plan by which
Coronado would explore the mountains east of Culiacán (in search of a
rumored gold-bearing area called Tbpira) and then rendezvous with Marcos Why Was Marcos's News Exciting?: April 1539
at Corazones. The rendezvous never materialized, but the idea emphasizes
the town's importance in their minds. A curious question arises. The Cabeza de Vaca party, including Estevan,
The town where Estevan (and later Marcos) first contacted people who had clearly told Mendoza that in Corazones they heard about large towns
knew about Cíbola could have been Corazones, which Estevan had visited with "many people and large houses" (Cabeza de Vaca's phrase) north of
in 1536 and in which he knew he'd get a friendly reception. Consistent their route. Why, then, was the news so exciting to Estevan and Marcos?
with this, the Coronado memoirist, Castañeda, says that Estevan was known The real question is how much Cabeza de Vaca's party had leamed
among the Indians among whom he was now traveling. about Cíbola and reported to Mendoza. Apparently, not very much. They
Marcos's relación, however, never mentions being in any town where Cabeza were not explorers but survivors trying to reach the Spanish colonies and
de Vaca had traveled, let alone Corazones. There are three plausible explana- save their lives; their faces and minds were turned south. They didn't know
tions for this. The first is that Marcos, on his way north, didn't pass through about Pizarro's discovery of Peru or about the race among Guzmán, Cortés,
Corazones beca use, mindful of Mendoza's instruction, he stayed closer to the and Mendoza to discover cities in the north. To them, the possible trade
coast, reaching the Río Sonora downstream from Corazones. Marcos may then center to the north of their route seems to have been more a matter of
have crossed the Río Sonora and ascended the major western tributary of that interesting speculation. Although Cabeza de Vaca's memoir gives evidence
river, the Río San Miguel. A 1978 archaeological surveyof the Río San Miguel that the inhabitants of Corazones knew about the northern trade centers,
by Mexican archaeologist Beatriz Braniff showed that it had villages similar to he didn't even record names for those communities. As mentioned ear-
those in the Río Sonora valley and consistent with those described by Marcos. lier, he said that people in Corazones gave him "ernerald" arrowheads,
The coastward route up that valley is supported by Marcos's frequent mentions "brought from high mountains toward the north, where they bought them
on his way north of his desire to get coastal information. in exchange for parrot feathers. They said there were towns there with man y
A second explanation is that Estevan, the only person in Marcos's party people and large houses." The tone of the original Joint Report, which
who had been to Corazones, had already passed through and gone north, so the castaways gave to Mendoza in 1536, is similar. lt says that lndians in
Marcos had no direct witness to confirm to him which village was the one Corazones told them about northern places with "very large" houscs and
Cabeza de Vaca's party had called by the Spanish name Corazones. turquoises but that thc Indians of Corazones "wcrc nota ble to i11for111
178 • Chapter 5 The Case of the "Lying Monk" • 179

about gold nor <lidthey have any news concerning mines" (translation by priest. But it's interesting to put ourselves in his shoes. He was an intelligent
historians Basil Hedrick and Carroll Riley in 1974). fellow, ancl we can glimpse the possibility of more complex rationalizations.
This gives a good sense of what the Cabeza de Vaca party transmitted Knowing the Spanish system, he may have calculatecl that if he coulcl be
to Mendoza. Years later, Castañeda said Cabeza de Vaca's party had men- the first to enter Cíbola ancl establish gooclrelations, he might reap rewards
tioned "four- and five-storied pueblos," but it appears that he conflated of royal favor, freeclom, and lancls. Cortés's exarnple showed that proclucing
Cabeza de Vaca's report with Marcos's discoveries and with what Castañeda new treasure made up for a lot of broken promises along the way.
himselfhad seen when he passed through Cíbola with Coronado in 1540. Perhaps Estevan rehearsecl his justifications as he moved along the trail.
In any case, Mendoza now had evidence that largish cities existed some- He'd sent message back to Marcos arouncl 25 March, as instructed. The
where in the North, but he knew virtually nothing about their distance, town from which he'd sent the message was two claysfrom Marcos, ancl he' el
locations, or residents. Success for Marcos and Estevan was thus not so urgecl Marcos to come at once, so he thought Marcos might appear by 29
much learning of the exístence of the "cities" but learning their locations, or 30 March, even though Marcos had probably announcecl his plan to stay
architecture, and general prosperity relative to towns encountered in in Vacapa until Easter, 6 April. Estevan hacl sent even more messengers a
Sonora. This helps us understand Estevan's excitement when he was told few days later, again urging Marcos to come. But Marcos clicln'tshow up by
about northern towns with multistory stone buildings only thirty days away. 2, 3, or 4 April, so Estevan woulcl claim that Marcos was the one who hacl
One more aspect applies to Estevan's reaction. From his point of view, broken the agreement. Estevan might actually have waitecl until 8 April in
he had set out with Narváez in 1528 on an expedition to seek wealth in the town where he got the news of Cíbola. From the relación, we see that
La Florida. Far ten years, he'd been associated with the search for grand, Marcos didn't arrive there until 9 April.
wealthy cities in what we now call the United States. This facet of his If Estevan waitecl to leave until 5-8 April, it woulcl put him in Cíbola
experience is confirmed in a letter from a financia! officer in Mexico City thirty clayslater. Many accounts instead portray Estevan as taking off imme-
to the royal treasurer on the Caribbean island of Hispaniola written on cliately,between 25 ancl 30 March, rushing clirectlyto Cíbola and arriving
18 October 1539, about seven weeks after Marcos got back to Mexico weeks aheacl of Marcos in orclerto claim priority in the "cliscovery."In reality,
City. It says that "according to the information the Black had obtained, there is sorne eviclence that he clic!wait for Marcos, as we'll see in a moment.
[the Narváez expeditionaries] were going to travel until they reached an
exceedingly wealthy land" (Flint and Flint 2005, 89). Finally, a decade
after setting out with Narváez, Estevan felt he had found the wealthy land. Marcos's Controversia} Trip toward the Coast: April 1539
This explains his giddy message to Marcos that, finally, he had news of"the
greatest thing in the world." In evaluating whether Marcos hacl time to complete his own journey, it's
Marcos probably harbored a more subtle kind of excitement. As men- important to note that he continuecl to have help on his journey north. For
tioned in chapter 2, the Franciscans saw themselves as agents of a great example, as he passed through villages north of Vacapa, the people "took
cosmic plan. They shared a theological dream that conversion of the great care to learn the clay I left Vacapa, so they coulcl [estimate my rate
Native Americans would complete God's plan for humanity and usher in of travel] ancl take foocl and shelter for me on the roacl aheacl." Later, he
the Second Coming. Thus, if Marcos could assist Mendoza in a peaceful, remarkecl that as he crossecla four-claydespoblado, the locals were "making
"apostolic" conquest of the North, God's plan would come to fruition. me shelters ancl carrying the foocl, [and] ... wherever I needed to cline, I
founcl huts and sufficient food-and at night I founcl huts and similar foocl
again." Assistance to Marcos from local people along the route, which
Where Was Estevan?: April 1539 Cabeza ele Vaca also reported, contraclicts the impression left by Hallen-
beck and others that Marcos strugglecl through uncharted lancls. If you've
Instead of waiting for Marcos as instructed, Estevan planted another tall ever backpackecl on wilderness trails, you can imagine what a clifference it
cross and disappeared up the trail to Cíbola. As a result, he has gone clown makes in daily mileage if you are guidecl ancl have your gear managecl by a
in history as the unfaithful Moor, ignoring orclersfrom the viceroy ancl the support group that sets up camp and prepares dinner for you,
' 180 • Chapter 5

Marcos's itinerary for the next few weeks is hard to unravel because
The Case of the "Lying Monk" • 181

o 50 - • • • • 9darcos áe !!Vtza1539
his relación is so cryptic about geography. He describes valleys and well- g..farcosáe Niza aná Coronado o !Mues 100
Corrmaáo 1540
irrigated villages but doesn't say where they were relative to each other. Crosdn¡¡ tñe 'l(jÚJmeter.r
He mentions erecting two crosses and taking possession of the land in
accordance with Mendoza's directions "because it seemed to me that [this
Cli.icli.iúicafe<Province 10
land) was better than what 1 was leaving behind." He also implies at one
point that he thought Estevan could be no more than eight or ten days ~~D
ahead, but his wording (Flint and Flint 2005, 70) is unclear.
The next date Marcos mentions is 9 May, when he entered the final
despoblado, only fifteen days from Cíbola. Since 9 May is thirty days after o qifa<Bená
9 April, however, Marcos could theoretically have reached Cíbola, accord-
ing to the Sonorans' reports of the travel time from just north of Vacapa.
Why was he delayed? He gives a clear answer. In one of the intervening vil-
lages, he tells us, "I learned that the coast turns very sharply to the west ...
[whereas J all the way from the beginning of the first despoblado, the coast
had been [bounding) the land. Because the turn of the coast is something
very important, 1went in search of it so it could be clarified and understood.
And 1understood clearly that at thirty-five degrees [latitude the coast) turns ~\1,,
? \
to the west. From this [discovery) 1 had no less happiness than from the
good news about the land. Then 1resumed my journey" (adapted from the
translation by Flint and Flint 2005, 72). The fact that Marcos tells us he
detoured west toward the sea (see map 10) when he was fewer than thirty
days from Cíbola reflects the value he placed on Mendoza's instructions
to get coastal information.
This side trip to the sea, however, is controversial. One reason is the chatty
quality of the relación. 1suspect that Marcos dictated it to scribes when he
returned to Mexico City (a pre-Xerox way to create multiple copies). He
mentions this or that valley,but it's unclear whether he has entered a new val-
Map 10. Hypothetical reconstruction of the final parts of Marcos de Niza's
ley or is continuing in one already mentioned. lnterestingly, he occasionally northward joumey, including the controversia! side trip toward the sea, his
changes into present tense; for example, his informant "says" that a certain passage through the Chichilticale region, and the fifteen-day despoblado, accord-
land líes to the southeast. This suggests that he took parts of his text from a ing to recent data from Nugent Brasher and the Flints. Cíbola líes north of the
present-tense journal or letters sent to Mendoza written in real time when he upper right comer of the map. The Coronado expedition traversed the last part
was in the village of the informant. Piecing together the relación in this way of the same route (see chapter 8). Map by Ron Beckwith.
as he dictated it, he failed to make adequate connections between segments
of the story, which leaves scholars frustrated about reconstructing his route.
Critics of Marcos say he had insufficient time to do all that he reported the coast at this point. He may even have traveled severa! days downstream
and thus that he simply made up the side trip toward the coast. But then on the Río Magdalena toward the ancient community of Caborca (still a
how <lidhe correctly report the turn of the coast? My suggestion would be prominent town; see map 10), where he confirmed information about the
that to get the information, he chose to travel north along a western river, coastline and the latitude. He was happy about getting this information,
the Río San Miguel, where he heard about the coast. Then, for his side trip, because it was "hard data," and perhaps he thought it indicated that the
he crossed west toward thc Río Magdalena, which runs westward toward coast might yet lcud lo Cathay. At the sume lime, his happincss was ironic,
182 • Chapter 5 The Case of the "Lying Monk" • 183

since Mendoza was hoping the coast turned east in order to provide access clearly" is a subtle but profound difference from asserting that Marcos stood
to the northern cities Cabeza de Vaca's party had mentioned. on a beach and observed the coast visually. Mendoza himself may have
The key sentence about this is rendered literally by most pre-2000 trans- had a hand in crafting this sentence. He wanted to preempt any claim that
lators as "I saw clearly that at latitude thirty-five degrees it turns west." Critics t Cortés's ship captains were the first to map and claim the north end of the
assert that he did not have time to reach a beach and "see" the sea. Applying Gulf of California, where the coast turned west, but to do so without an
our "Heisenberg uncertainty principle of words," I noticed that when Mar- overtly false statement that Marcos had walked and mapped the beaches.
cos recounted his experiences in Peru, he seemed to distinguish between This scenario of learning about the coast may sound like speculation,
bearing witness that something was true and his use of a phrase "I also affirm but it is explicitly supported by events 150 years later, as described in the
and saw myself with my own eyes ... " In other words, "I saw" used alone sidebar "Who 'Discovered' What, and When?"
meant "I understood." Even today, we might chat with someone and then During the nights of 22-23 April 1539 (by Marcos's Julian calendar), the
say "I saw what he meant." Thus, I suggested in my novel that the phrase probable time of the coastal survey, a full moon lit the desert landscape,
"I saw clearly that the coast turns west" might actually have meant "I carne according to a tabulation by Gary Kronk (1999), and in this region, the
to understand clearly, from my interviews, that the coast turns west" (2002, bright sandy soil and sparse vegetation make it easy to hike by moonlight.
187). Thus the Flints, in their 2005 translation, rendered the passage as "I This gave Marcos a chance to cover large distances in this near-coastal
understood clearly that at thirty-five degrees [latitude the coast] turns to the region, as he used the pleasant desert evenings to return to his main route
west." Their footnote (630, footnote 131) discusses the issue. "Understood toward Cíbola.

184 • Chapier 5 The Case of the "Lyíng Monk" • 185

Marcos Returns to His Main Journey: April 1539 held it over their heads and said this was the height between the floors
[note the ladders in fig. 5b].
After leaving the coast, Marcos passed through severa! prosperous valleys
without reporting clear geographic identifications: "I traveled through that Though we don't know the locations where these anecdotes were told,
valley [location unspecified] five days.... It is all irrigated and is like an the accounts themselves have a ring of truth; a good-humored traveler is
evergreen garden. The clusters of houses are half a league anda quarter of reporting real incidents. Eventually, Marcos arrived in the last populated
a league apart [around a mile). In each of these [villages) I obtained very valley before Cíbola itself: "I traveled through this valley for three days....
lengthy reports about Cíbola. [The informants spoke) as people who go Here ... I saw more than two thousand buffalo hides. I saw a much greater
there each year to earn their livelihood. Here I found a man, a native of quantity of turquoises and necklaces in this valley than in any of the earlier
Cíbola, who said he had come [there) fleeing from the governor" (trans- ones .... Here I received messengers from Estevan. They told me that he
lation by Flint and Flint 2005, 72). From this man, who Marcos said was was already traveling in the final despoblado [the final, fifteen-day unsettled
of "good character," Marcos learned that the "lord" of the seven cities of region, south of Cíbola], and was very happy because he was assured of the
Cíbola lived in one of the seven towns, called Ahacus, which was allegedly magnificence of the land."
the "most important" town in the Cíbola province. The man of good char- Marcos had reached the final village before Cíbola, and he stated that
acter wanted to go back to Cíbola with Marcos, who might, he hoped, the beginning of the final, fifteen-day despoblado was considered to be four
"obtain a pardon for him." days away (see fig. 6 and map 1O).The inhabitants of the village asked Mar-
These pages, both before and after the coastal foray, include cheer- cos to wait three or four days so they could collect food and gather a group
fully amusing anecdotes. (This and the next passages are adapted from the to go with him to Cíbola. They claimed that more than three hundred
translation by Flint and Flint 2005, 71-73.) For example, in a "recently people from villages of the region had already left for Cíbola with Estevan
irrigated town," because "they thought they would return as wealthy people."
The location of Marcos's route in southern Arizona and the locale of
1was wearing a habit of gray,closelywoven woolen cloth. The governor the last populated valley become clearer as we combine Marcos's relación
and others examined the habit with their hands and told me there was a with later Coronado expedition accounts and modern discoveries. The
lot of it in Totonteac [one of the other kingdoms said to be near Cíbola ], last valley with settled villages before reaching Cíbola was probably the
and that people there were clothed with it. 1laughed and said it couldn't San Pedro River valley in the southeastern comer of Arizona. The Coro-
be my cloth, because they were wearing cotton. They replied "Youthink nado chronicles (see chapter 8) suggest that the fifteen-day despoblado
we don't know the difference? In Cíbola, ali the houses are full of the was considered to begin in the Chiricahua Mountains, 60 to 70 road miles
cloth that we wear, but in Totonteac they have animals whose fur makes northeast of plausible "last village" locations along the San Pedro. This
the kind of material you are wearing." distance matches Marcos's report of four days' travel from the last valley
(the San Pedro) to the start of the despoblado.
A few days farther along the trail, a local informant described the marvels When Marcos arrived in the "last village" on 1 or 2 May, he remarked
of the stone-walled buildings in Cíbola. that he had traveled 112 leagues (280 to 347 miles) since he first reached
the people who knew about Cíbola (9 April). Elapsed time was twenty-two
1 protested that it wasn't possible that the houses were made in the or twenty-three days. This allows us an extra check on his story. If he had
way they said. To help me understand, they took soil and ashes mixed come by the most direct route, without detouring toward the coast (north
with water, and showed me how they laid the stones and built up the upstream on the Río Sonora, across the Cananea grassland, and north
walls, [then] laid clownthe mixture and placed [more] stones up to the downstream on the San Pedro to the area of Lewis Spring), he'd have
[intended] height. 1 asked them if the men of that land had wings to covered only about 200 trail miles ata wildly uncharacteristic rate of only 9
reach those upper stories. They laughed and pantomimed a ladder to miles per day. In our scenario, however, travel from the Río Sonora, up the
me justas well as I could havo indicated it. Thcn they took a stick ami San Miguel, across to Magdalena, then halfway to Caborca (during which
The Case of the "Lying Monk" • 187

he learned about the seacoast), and then back to the San Pedro and Lewis
Spring is roughly 300 trail miles-just the distance Marcos reported. His
average travel rate would then be 300 miles in twenty-two or twenty-three
days, or an easy 13 to 14 miles per day, giving him plenty of downtime
for the interviews he reports. Even if we allow him seven days of total
downtime in various villages, he still needs to average only 19 or 20 miles
per day on the trail. In summary, Marcos's reported distances are consistent
with his story of a coastal foray.
Theories that Marcos lied about his coastal trip ignore that Marcos
reported correct information about the coast. The coast did turn west. His

SIDEBAR: Did Marcos de Niza Stop in Phoenix?

A discovery made in the 1920sseemed to pinpoint a spot on Marcos de Niza's
path. On a vertical slab of rock near an east entrance to South Mountain Park
(on the south edge of Phoenix, west of Guadalupe, Arizona) is a clear inscription.
Fr Marcos
dª Nisa
Below it on a horizontal slab is an additional description, harder to read, that
probably says:
Corona to Doel nuebo
Mexico a su costa
No (or ANo) De 1539
This lower inscription means something like "Crown ali of New Mexico at his
cost, year of 1539."The last part, on the horizontal slab, doesn't make much sense.
Still, the whole thing looks like the smoking gun that fixes Marcos's location.
Not so fast! In 1940scholarly sleuths Katharine Bartlett and Harold S. Colton
proved (from the words and letter style in the second portion) that the inscrip-
tion is actually a partial copy of a clearer inscription made in 1692on El Morro,
the famous lnscription Rock in New Mexíco. The cryptíc phrases were part of a
statement about the 1692Vargas expedítíon, comíng from New Mexíco in the ser-
vice of the Crown at their own expense. The copyist probably did not understand
Spanish spellíngs and fused a few words nonsensically. Bartlett and Coitan con-
Figure 6. One of Marcos's "garden-like" valleys. This scene (in a Conservation
cluded that the Phoenix "Marcos inscription" was a fraud. lt may date back as far
Area) along Arizona's San Pedro Rivera few miles north of the Mexican border,
as the late 1800sor early 1900s,when there was a certain amount of freewheel-
illustrates the beautiful, cottonwoocl-lined, north-south valleys that Marcos
ing boosterism for then-fledgling Phoenix; its intent may have been to prove that
found in the micldle portian of his journey. Villages within a few miles of this
location werc íhe last that Marcos visitccl befare cntcring thc final, fifleen-clay Europeans were in Phoenix before they reached Jamestown or Plymouth Rock
despoblado 011 thc w;1ylo Ctbola. Photo by thc author, 2005, showing íhc (seo also Dorn ot al. 2012).
Srn 1111c111A1 izo11:i 11iki11g Cli rh.
188 • Chapter 5 The Case of the "Lying Monk" • 189

latitude measurement of 35º was similar to Ulloa's. Both measurements then crossed the higher country along the modern Arizona-New Mexico
were three or four degrees too high, which sounds suspicious until we real- border to Zuni. The modern road mileage is 270 to 305 trail miles, giving
ize that Spanish latitude measures in this area at that time were commonly a reasonable average of 18 to 20 miles per <layin rough country for what
Marcos reported as a "long day's travel." Along this route, Marcos said, "we
a degree or so too high, as we'll discuss in chapter 7.
For Marcos, everything was coming together. He'd learned about the traveled the first <layvia a very wide and well-used trail. We reached a water
coast and claimed new lands for the viceroy, and now Cíbola was only source at which to eat, which Indians had indicated to me, and another
source of water at which to sleep. There I found a building which they had
nineteen days away.
just finished putting up for me, and another ... where Estevan had slept
when he passed, [and] old shelters and many signs of fires from the people
who had traveled to Cíbola along this trail" (Flint and Flint 2005, 73). Given
Sending a Message: ca. 4 May 1539
this information, Marcos now expected to catch up with Estevan at the great
While waiting three days at that final village on the San Pedro River, metropolis of Cíbola around 24 May. What could possibly go wrong?
Marcos knew that if sorne accident befell him during this last, crucial
phase of his trip, his latest news would reach the viceroy. Therefore, he
probably followed Mendoza's instructions and sent one last message back Disaster: ca. 21May1539
clown the trail to the viceroy, summarizing his exciting results. This mes-
sage would probably have included the kinds of phrases reproduced later Now carne one of the most dramatic scenes in early American history. Mar-
in his relación: valleys "all irrigated ... like an evergreen garden,'' cities cos tells it very well in his own words. (This and the next two translations are
with multistoried stone buildings, well-dressed people with turquoises, the synthesized and abridged from Flint and Flint 200 5 and Hallenbeck [1949]
1987.) Around 21 May, three days out from Cíbola, the party ran into
"magnificence of the land."
Since Marcos knew he was nineteen days from Cíbola, he could rea-
son that his new message would arrive in Mexico City at least thirty-eight an lndian, the son of one of the important men who were traveling along
days befare he himself could get back. Based on his elapsed time on his with me. He'd gone in the company of Estevan [and] he carne to us
way north plus at least thirty-eight days, his letter may have predicted to exhausted and sweaty.He told me that one day's joumey befare reaching
Mendoza that he might be back to Mexico City in August or September. Cíbola, Estevan sent his gourd, a talisman rattle, ahead into the city with
messengers. He alwayssent it in advance, so that people in the next town
would know he wascoming. The gourd had rowsofbells and two feathers
on it, one white and one red.
Into the Last Despoblado: 9 May 1539
When his messengers arrived at Cfbola, they carne befare the local
By 4 or 5 May groups had assembled with food and supplies in the village govemor, appointed by the lord of the seven cities. They gave him the
where Marcos was waiting. Marcos selected about thirty local principales gourd. When the govemor sawthe gourd and the bells, he flung it to the
(village leaders) to go with him, noting that they were well dressed, sorne ground in fury,and told the messengers to leave at once, sayinghe knew
wearing necklaces with as many as five or six strands of turquoise. No doubt what people they represented, and that Estevan's party should not try to
others oflesser rank joined Marcos's party to lead the way, carry supplies, and enter the city. Otherwise, they'd ali be killed.
set up camps. The party walked from a village on the San Pedro River east for The messengers retumed and told Estevan what had happened.
about two days to the western base of the Chiricahua Mountains, and then Estevan said it was nothing-the very people who exhibited anger were
two more days to Apache Pass, at the north end of the mountains, and then the ones who usually ended up welcoming him the best. So he traveled
into the fifteen-day despoblado. According to the route proposed by the Flints on toward Cíbola.
(2005, 695-96 footnotes) and supported by finds of Coronado-era mate- The citizcns wouldn't ler him in, but placed him in a large building
rial reported in 2011 by New Mexico geologist Nugent Brasher, the route outsidc thc city,ami took aw<1y ali his tradc articlcs, turquoises, ami other
190 • Chapter 5 The Case of the "Lyíng Monk" • 191

items he'd accumulated from Indians along the road. He and his party Marcos went on to describe how the two refugees confirmed the story
were stuck there that whole night without anything to eat or drink. of the first one: Estevan had arrived at the city of Cíbola just befare sunset
Next morning, the Indian who was relating these events grew thirsty, along with all the people who had gone with him, both men and women.
and left the building to drink from the nearby stream. Moments later, The governor of Cíbola had angrily refused entry to Estevan's party, con-
from that spot, he saw Estevan beginning to Hee. People from the city cluding from the style of the Moor's ceremonial (Texas? Sonaran?) rattle
were chasing him, and they killed sorne of his companions. As soon as that the strangers were enemies of Cíbola. The officials of Cíbola put
our informant saw this, he hid himself upstream. Later, he entered the Estevan and his friends in an outlying building and confiscated Estevan's
despoblado along the trail, where he eventually met us. possessions. Marcos continues the story:
Afterwe received this calamitous news, sorne of the other Indians with
me began to weep. I feared all would be lost. I didn't fear losing my life [The Indians said, "On the] next day, when the sun was a lance-length
as much as I feared being unable to return to Mexico with information high, Estevan went out from the building with sorne of our chiefs. At
about the grandness of the country, where God, Our Lord, could be once, many people carne out from the city. When Estevan saw them,
so well served, his Holy Faith glorified, and the royal patrimony of His he began to flee, and we with him. Immediately, they gave us arrow
Majesty enlarged. wounds and gashes. We fell clownand others fell on top of us, dead. So
Given the situation, I consoled my Indian companions as best I could, we remained until night, without daring to move. We heard loud voices
and told them they shouldn't necessarily believe everything the fugitive in the city, and saw many men and women watching from the city's
said. But they said, through tears, that he wouldn't have described any- terraces. We saw no more of Estevan. Maybe they shot him with arrows
thing he hadn't seen. like the rest of us. No one escaped but us."
So I withdrew to commend myself to Our Lord, and to beg him to When I heard all this, and realized the poor state of my gear for con-
guide this situation according to His will, and to enlighten my heart. tinuing the journey as I had wished, I couldn't help imagining Estevan's
Having done this, I returned to the others. With a knife I cut the cords of death and my own....
the leather trunks of clothing and trade goods that we had been carrying. I proclaimed to them that Our Lord, and the Emperor, would send
Until then I had not opened these bundles, nor given anything from them many more Christians to punish that city. They didn't believe me,
to anyone, but now I distributed them among all the chiefs, and told them because they say no one can match the might of Cíbola. I begged them
not to fear, asking them to proceed ahead with me. And they did. to feel better and stop weeping, and I consoled them with the best words
I could find-too many to repeat here.
It's interesting to note that Marcos does not lament the loss of the chance After this, I withdrew a stone's throw or two to commend myself to
to find treasure but rather losing the chance to report a grand land where God. I spent probablyan hour anda half. When I carne back, I found one
the Christian Spain's "patrimony" could be expanded. Marcos was obsessed of my own Indians, named Marcos, weeping. He was one of those I had
less about gold than about the expansion of Christian civilization as he brought with me from Mexico City. He told me, "Father, these people
understood it. have plotted to kill you, because they say it's your fault that Estevan
Marcos now pushed on toward Cíbola. One <layfrom Cíbola, he encoun- and their kin are dead. They believe that none of their friends, man or
tered two more survivors from the group who had gone with Estevan. The woman, is likely to survive this trip."
previous story was repeated: "They carne stained with blood and with many At this, I distributed what I had left of the garments and trade articles to
wounds. I urged everyone to quiet clown, so we could learn what was hap- calm them. I told them that even if they killed me, it wouldn't really harm
pening. How could they be silent, they responded, when they believed that me, because I would die a Christian, and would go to heaven. Those who
more than three hundred might be dead among their fathers, sons, and killed me, however, would suffer, because more Christians would come
brothers? They added that now they could never again dare go Cíbola, as to search forme and kill all of them, even though such a thing would be
they traditionally <lid!I tried to calm them as best I could ... though I was against my own wishes. These and other words appeased them, though
not without need of someone to rid me of fear myself!" thcy still fclt grcat rcscntmcut ovcr thc pcoplc who had been killed.
192 • Chapter 5 The Case of the "Lying Monk" • 193

1 proposed that sorne of them should continue with me to Cíbola, to * 8 April: Estevan gives up waiting and leaves that village. (Marcos
see if anyone had escaped, and to learn what we could about Estevan. arrives there on 9 April, as per Marcos's relación.) lnitially, Estevan
No one agreed. So 1 said that, no matter what, 1 had to see the city of travels slowlynorth to allow Marcos to catch up, enjoying receptions in
Cíbola. Finally, two of the native leaders who had come from the last villages. Estevan realizes he could claim discovery of Cíbola if he gets
inhabited region, seeing me determined to go on by myself, said they there first but dares not get too far ahead of Marcos far fear of being
would go with me. charged later with disobedience. With sorne time on his hands, his
dalliances in the villages may explain his reputation as a womanizer.
As we'll see in a moment, Marcos next describes how he and a few * approximately 19-22 April: After eleven to fourteen days, Estevan
others crept through back country and ventured within sight of Cíbola. arrives in the "last village" befare the remaining fifteen-day despo-
As noted earlier, however, sorne scholars use the schedule of Estevan's blado, on the San Pedro River in southern Arizona. He spends severa!
travels to discredit Marcos at this point. The argument was that Estevan days organizing his reported party of three hundred people who want
could theoretically have reached Cíbola between 1 and 5 May if he left to go to Cíbola.
promptly from the village where he learned of Cíbola and if he rushed up * approximately 26 April: Estevan leaves the "last village" with a large
the thirty-day trail. This would place Estevan's execution around the first party.
few days ofMay. Marcos indicates that he met the first survivorsofEstevan's * approximately 30 April: Estevan has crossed the four-day zone from
murder about 20 May, three days south of Cíbola, implying that Estevan the "last village" to the beginning of the fifteen-day despoblado. A few
was executed about 17 May. So it has been argued that these dates convict people from the last village return to itas messengers. Estevan can now
Marcos of lying by his own account. expect to arrive in Cíbola around 15 May.
* 1-2 May: Marcos arrives in the "last village" on the San Pedro River,
as indicated by his relación. Estevan's messengers report his progress to
Estevan's Calendar as Testimony against Marcos?: Marcos. Marcos tells us he was asked by local villagers to wait "three or
May 1539 faur" days far the assembly of more people who wanted to go with him.
* 4-5 May: Trailing Estevan by eight or nine days, Marcos departs the
The problem with the above argument is that we have no direct testimony "last village," which he said was faur days from the beginning of the
about Estevan's travel. Thus, the best way to test whether Marcos told the last, fifteen-day despoblado.
truth is to assume Marcos's dates as a working hypothesis and then see if * 9 May: The date specified by Marcos when he entered the fifteen-day
a hypothetical "Estevan calendar" can be constructed that is at least con- despoblado. At his normal rate, he could thus arrive at Cíbola on the
sistent with Marcos's story. The answer is yes. Here is a resulting, possible evening of 23 May.
version of Estevan's calendar as related to Marcos's movements. * approximately 15 May: Estevan arrives at Cíbola fifteen days after
he entered the despoblado. After parleys, he is installed in the house
* approximately 24-25 March: Estevan reaches villages north ofVacapa outside Cíbola.
where he learns of multistory stone towns thirty days to the north. He * on the morning of approximately 16 May: Estevan is attacked, and
sends fast messengers to Marcos indicating he had arrived there in presumably killed. (We'll learn more later.) Natives from San Pedro
two days, telling Marcos to come at once, thus hoping Marcos will engage in a skirmish. Many play dead and remain until night, accord-
arrive 28-29 March. ing to their testimony to Marcos.
* late March: Marcos had already told Estevan that he (Marcos) would * on the morning of approximately 17 May: Natives from the San Pedro
like to stay in Vacapa until Easter, 6 April. Therefare, Estevan waits villages escape from Cíbola in disorganized groups.
impatiently until 8 April for Marcos to arrive in the village where * approximately 20 May: Three days from Cíbola (as stated by Mar-
Estevan heard about Cíbola. cos), Marcos cncounters the first exhausted native from the San Pedro
194 • Chapter 5 The Case of the "Lying Monk" • 195

valley; the escapee gives the first account of the debacle at Cíbola. [i.e., the pueblos of Cíbola- WKH] and that Totonteac is much grander
Marcos's group stops to hear the story, losing about a day of travel time. and better than all the seven ciudades. And that [Totonteac] comprises
* approximately 23 May: One day from Cíbola (as stated by Marcos), so many buildings and people that it has no end. Considering the excel-
Marcos encounters other bloodied stragglers who have hidden in the lence of the ciudad, it seemed [appropriate] to me to call that land the
hills, then reassembled with their friends and are fleeing from Cíbola. Nuevo Reino de San Francisco.
Further delay.
* approximately 24 May: Marcos views one of the towns of Cíbola and An enthused Marcos was naming the land after the founder of his Francis-
then flees. can order-the New Kingdom of Saint Francis.

In this reconstruction, there is no catastrophic discrepancy in Marcos's 1erected a large mound of stones there with the help of the Indians. On
account. A strong point in this reconstruction is that it follows the Goldi- top of it 1 set a small, thin cross, since I did not have the equipment to
locks principie: Neither Estevan nor Marcos is traveling unbelievably fast make it bigger. 1declared that the cross and mound were being erected
or unbelievably slow. Each man's travel rates work out to be just right. in token of possession in the name of don Antonio de Mendoza, viceroy
and govemor of Nueva España, [and] on behalf of the emperor, our lord,
in accordance with the [viceroy's]directive. 1declared that [by] that act
Marcos at Cíbola: 24 May(?) 1539 of possession 1was there taking possession of all of the seven ciudades,
plus the reinos of Totonteac, Ácus, and Maratta, [I stated] that 1was not
For the remainder of Marcos's description of Cíbola, I quote the transla- going on to them in arder to retum to give a report of what had been
tion by Flint and Flint (2005, 75-76). lt is the most authoritative in terms seen and done.
of word-by-word rendering from the Spanish, and the precise wording is
important in terms of the scholarly arguments about what Marcos was At this point, Marcos tumed away and fled from the city that he had
trying to say. He set off with two of the village leaders who agreed to go come so far to see.
with him.

With those [principales] and with my own Indians and interpreters, I

continued on my wayuntil within sight of Cíbola. lt is situated in a plain,
on the lower slope of a round hill. As a town, it has a very handsome
appearance, the best I have seen in this region. As it appeared to me
from a hill where I positioned myself in arder to view it, the houses are
arranged in the way the Indians told me, all made of stone with their
upper stories and flat roofs. The settlement is grander than the Ciudad
de Mexico. [Here, Marcos refers to the extent and condition of Mexico
City as known to him when he left in 1538.- WKH] A few times I was
tempted to go there myself, far I knew I was risking only my life, and I
had rendered that to God.
Considering my danger, from the day I began my joumey until its
end, 1 had feared that if I were to die, no report about this land could
be obtained. In my view, this is the grandest and best of all discovered.
When I remarked to the principales 1had with me how excellent Cíbola
seemed to me, they replicd that it was thc least of the seven ciudades
Marcos Races Back to Mexico City • 197

of their retum trip? Marcos mentions little about the route south, except
that he traveled farther inland than on his northern trek in order to check
CHAPTER SIX a rumor he heard on his way north that gold was used in a certain valley
to the east. Based on Marcos's relación and statements by Coronado expe-
ditionary Juan de Jaramillo the following year, this valley was in the Sierra
Madre foothills, east of the Arroyo Cedros in southeastern Sonora. Marcos
Marcos Races Back to resisted the temptation to detour all the way into the valley "because it
seemed to me that it was ... better [to gather information] without putting
México City my person at risk." He surveyed the valley from a distance, noting villages
with smoke rising in a "verdant" and "excellent land." He was told again
that the natives of this region traded in earrings, jars, and a type of spatula
or scraper for removing sweat, all made from gold.
Contrary to popular image, this episode is the only mention of gold in
Marcos's relación. We'll see in chapter 8 how the golden valley turned out.
As for gold, silver, or other riches in Cíbola, Marcos must have agonized
during his return about his lack of proof. Describing the episode of the
eastern valley, Marcos reveals that he carried samples of gold and other
rnetals, and he showed them to local people along the way during his
Marcos was refreshingly frank about his concerns as he fled Cíbola. He in quiries about valuable metals. Surely he used his gold samples to ask the
continues the story with a wonderful sentence: "And so I turned back, with peo ple who' d been to Cíbola if gold existed there. What were the answers?
much more fear than food." After two days, he caught up with his former Presumably, the lndians said they hadn't seen significant amounts of that
friends, who had abandoned him. He retreated with them back across the metal, though they might have recognized copper samples. Why doesn't
fifteen-day despoblado to their villages, which we place on the San Pedro Marcos's relación talk about this? We can speculate that Mendoza did not
River in southeastern Arizona. Here, he tells us, "the people did not give want that publicly certified document to say that his man Marcos found no
me as good a reception as before, because both men and women were evidence of gold. There were three reasons. First, it would open the door
making a great lament for their friends [apparently] killed at Cíbola. With to Cortés claiming any gold that Mendoza's men might find later. Second,
trepidation, I immediately said farewell to the people of that valley. The first Mendoza had Cabeza de Vaca's copper bell, "proof" of metals in the North.
day I traveled ten leagues; then I traveled at a rate of eight or ten, without Surely northern treasures would eventually be found. Third, Mendoza and
stopping until I returned past the second despoblado" (this translation is Marcos wanted to encourage the great work of expanding Spanish lands
and planting Christianity in the North.
based mainly on Flint and Flint 2005, 76).
This gives us intriguing information about his rate of travel. He was
racing awayfrom possible mortal danger and so is revealing his peak rates of
travel. Eight to ten leagues per day is in the range of 20 to 31 miles per day. Mexico City: Summer, 1539
If Marcos counted his despoblados from north to south during the return,
he traveled at that rate to the headwaters of the Río Sonora in northern From records in Mexico City during 1539, we see the race between Cortés
Sonora, safe from the angry San Pedro valley natives. If he used his original and Mendoza heating upas rumors about Marcos's journey began to filter
numbering of despoblados, from south to north, it would mean he traveled into the streets. Cortés surely knew by early 1539 that Mendoza had sent
this fast to somewhere just south of the Río Sonora valley in the Vacapa area. Marcos from Mexico City to the North. Cortés then spent the spring pre-
From here on, Marcos devotes only the last 7 percent of his relación paring his ships to sail north up the gulf. 011 8 [uly, weeks before Marcos
to his return. This is typical of many travelers, who ever recites the story rcappearcd, Cortés made his move. lle suchlcnly dispatched eme of his
198 • Chapter 6 Marcos Races Back to Mexíco Cíty • 199

own naval captains, Francisco de Ulloa, up the gulf with three ships to Estevan to the interior of the land in complete safety. [They] performed it
see what discoveries and legal claims they could bring back regarding the justas I asked, treating them most excellently" (translation from Flint and
Flint 2005, 40).
northern lands.
Cortes's move was likely precipitated by specific rumors that Marcos had As pointed out by New Mexico historian Lansing Bloom in 1940, Coro-
reported good lands in the North. Such rumors could have been based on nado would never have sent this cheerful report to the king if Marcos had
leaks of information from the letters that Marcos had sent back. Cortés may already arrived, beca use Marcos would have told Coronado, as Mendoza's
even have had his own men in Mendoza's court to keep him informed. appointed governor, that the Cíbolans had executed Estevan. Thus, Coro-
We have evidence that Marcos sent such letters back; Coronado wrote to nado's letter must have been based only on messages Marcos had sent back
Mendoza from Compostela in March or April, stating that he was enclos- on his way north before the disaster happened.
ing "a letter I have received from the aforementioned father," describing Pedro de Castañeda, in his three-book eyewitness "Narrative," written
Marcos's happy progress in the first days of his journey. * in the l560s about the Coronado expedition (book 1, chapter 4), tells us
When <lid Marcos actually arrive back in Culiacán, Compostela, or that once Coronado and Marcos reunited in Compostela, "so great was the
Mexico City? He gives no specific arrival dates, probably because Mendoza magnificence" of Marcos's news about Cíbola and "about the Mar del Sur
told him to report in secret. Fortunately, we can develop estimates from and islands" that they left for Mexico City "without fmther delay" (Flint
various peripheral documents. The sidebar "A Plausible Reconstruction of and Flint 2005, 389).
Marcos's Return Trip: Summer, 1539" presents plausible rates of travel and Castañeda (book 1, chapter 4) reports an instructive anecdote about that
suggests that Marcos was back at the frontier town of Culiacán by 10-12 final July/August journey from Compostela to Mexico City. He says that
July. His relación tells us that he didn't find Coronado in residence there Marcos "rnade things seem more important because he refused to inforrn
and that he continued southeast toward Compostela, where the sidebar anyone about them, except his particular friends in stealthy, secret talks,
places him about 26 July. until after he had reached Mexico City." Castañeda's source may have
Coronado had already arrived in Compostela sometime before July 15 been rumors he heard from people in that party. Marcos, of course, was
after his own failed attempt to find the rumored gold-bearing province following Mendoza's orders to keep things secret. The air of secrecy (like
of Topira in the Sierra Madre. (The rumors may not have been false; as many attempts at secrecy) was ultimately counterproductive because it
shown on map 8, Durango, a famous modern gold-mining district, líes enhanced rumormongering among the bystanders.
in the mountains about 300 modern road miles east-southeast of his base We know that by 26 July Cortés had already heard the rumors of Mar-
at old Culiacán; additional modern gold and silver mining in the Sierra cos's reports of good land and Marcos's impending return. Cortés, who
Madre is even closer.) We know Coronado was in Compostela by 15 July, was located near Mexico City at that point, wrote to Mendoza on that date
because he sent a letter on that date from Compostela to the king recount- about the news he'd heard, disingenuously offering his help, begging to
ing news of Marcos's messages about "the magnificence of the land which learn the location of Marcos's discoveries, mentioning his ships, and subtly
Fray Marcos reports." This phrase is similar to phrases Marcos used in his implying his own priority in the matter.
relación. (Here, then, is a hidden clue that Marcos likely used his own
letters and notes in compiling the relación.) Another proof that Marcos I am infinitely pleased ... with the news about Fray Marcos because
had been sending letters back is that Coronado's 15 July letter reveals an although 1was certain that a good country would be found, 1did not
important fact: Marcos himself had not arrived in Compostela by 15 July, think it was so near. My ships will find out what may be beyond, which 1
so the news must have arrived by messenger. Coronado tells the king: "I am sure must be something great. God desires that we shouldn't be idle,
directed [Indians from towns north of Culiacán] to take Fray Marcos and but act otherwise, because he placed us here for each to use his own
talents. As Fray Marcos will return so soon, he will give more news. 1
beg your worship to order that the details be sent to me, especially about
* We don't have the original of Coronado's letter, nor do we have Marcos's letter. Coronado's
thc location whcrc it is, for r finnly belicvc he will have markeclit clown.
letter was published by Ciovanni Rarnusio with a date of 8 March, but from interna] evidcnce
in the letter, his date, like certain other dctails in Ra11111sio'scdition, sccms likcly to be au error. (trauslation hy Wagner 19'H, 21~-14)
200 • Chapter 6 Marcos Races Back to Mexico City 201

Cortés's 26 July phrase that "Marcos will return ... soon" proves that by sea and large armies by land, but through a single, barefoot friar, so
Marcos had not arrived in the Mexico City area by 24-26 July (allowing a that we may better understand ... that to Him alone the gloryis due, and
day or so for Cortés to hear about it). Mendoza answered quickly, request- nothing can be attributed to man. (translation by Wagner 1934, 217-18)
ing Cortés's advice about future explorations. Mendoza's letter has been
lost, but the archives contain a follow-up letter from Cortés dated 6 August, Again, there is no proof in this letter that Marcos himself was in Mexico
sent to Mendoza from Cuernavaca, about 35 miles south of Mexico City. City by 6 August. There is only "news of Marcos." Notice that the letters
don't refer to Cíbola or the death of Estevan but only to "good country,"
Today 1 received great favor and much happiness, when your lordship indicating again that all this news carne from messages that Marcos wrote
sent the letter concerning news of Friar Marcos. 1had been wishing to on his way north, befare the Cíbola debacle.
receive this news on account of what is being said around here about When Marcos reached Mexico City-regardless of the exact date-he
that country. 1 hadn't given credence to it until 1 saw your letter, since reported his findings in secret to Mendoza. In courtyards and cantinas, how-
your lordship had written to me that you would have me informed of ever, friends of Coronado, Marcos, and Mendoza began to Ieak their versions
whatever Friar Marcos might say. of what they had heard. Castañeda saysthe news spread quickly: the rumored
It's worth rendering praise to God ... that in our veryown times, He is northern cities had been discovered! Wagner (1934, 218ff.) remarks on an
pleased to revealto us this knowledgethat has so long lain hidden. We may "entire change in the situation" sometime between 6 August and 2 Septem-
succeed in givingHim thanks forsogreata boon bymakingproper use of it. ber, which supports our argument that Marcos's arrival was in that interval.
If anyone isgoingto be successfulin this affair,surely it is God himself. Our sidebar suggeststhat Marcos reached Mexico City about 22 August, and
It was God who wished to reveal this, not by expenditures for huge fleets this is supported by a very dramatic acceleration of events at just that time:

SIDEBAR: A Plausible Reconstruction of Marcos's Return Trip:

• The distance from the San Pedro Riverto Culiacán is about 770 miles (allow-
ing far the side trip to the eastern valley). lf he travels at an average rate
When did Marcos reach Mexico City? Using various dates mentioned in the of about 23 miles per day, the trip takes thirty-faur days. lf he averages 24
text and elsewhere, 1developed the following plausible calendar far Marcos's miles per day when actually on the road, he could have had two full days
actions on his return. My intent is not to claim precise dates, but only to see if of rest on the way. Arrive in Culiacán on 10 July. Coronado not there. Rest
sorne combination of dates is probable in terms of other evidence. The distances about a day anda half.
are estimates based on map measurements and also tabulations by Cleve Hal- • Depart Culiacán on 12 July. Travel to Compostela: 307 miles in fifteen days,
lenbeck ((1949] 1987, 46). averaging about 20 miles per day (possibly partly on horses or in wagons?).
Henry Wagner (1934, 214) cites 250 miles far this distance. In that case, the
• Depart Cíbola 24 May about midday [ses text), fleeing far his lite. Raee about rate would be only 17 miles per day. Wagner says that "dueto the charac-
340 miles to the villages on the San Pedro River in faurteen days through ter of the country this could hardly be negotiated under two weeks at the
rough country at an average rate of 25 miles per day. Arrive on the San least," which is consistent with my figures.
Pedro on 6 June by his Julian calendar. • Arrive in Compostela on the afternoon or evening of 26 July. Marcos's rel-
• Depart village on San Pedro River the same day, 6 June. He says he was still ación says that Coronado was already there, which fits with the fact that
fleeing angry locals and that "with trepidation" he continuad from there, Coronado wrote from there to the king on 15July. Assume Coronado required
10 leagues (25 to 31 miles) on the first day, implying that this was a high but two days to organize the departure to Mexico City. This is generous, since
feasible rate far him. He says he continued at 8 to 10 leagues per day until Castañeda says they left "without stopping for anything." lt is consistent,
he reached the second despoblado. continued
202 • Chapter 6 Marcos Races Back to Mexíco City • 203

* 23 August: The bishop of Mexico, Juan de Zumárraga, wrote a letter says nothíng about gold in Cíbola. lf Marcos had told Zumárraga that
stating that Fray Marcos "has discovered a much more wonderful land" Cíbola was full of gold, would the bishop have failed even to mention
(Wagner 1934, 223). The letter summarizes Marcos's discoveries about it? Marcos seems to have told Zumárraga only correct information
Cíbola. The letter doesn't explicitly say that Marcos was back yet, but about a cultured group of towns with larger communities beyond.
it contains strong clues. First, it reports details about Cíbola that are * 24 August: The very next day, Viceroy Mendoza suddenly issued a
not known from any other source, including Marcos's relación. This proclamation forbidding anyone to leave the country by sea or land
suggests a prívate conversation between Marcos and his bishop. For without his permission. This was presumably to block Cortés from
example, it notes that the Cíbolans were "cultured in their wooden edi- sending more ships and to stop wildcat expeditions launched in
fices of many stories," that they "worship the sun and moon," and that response to the now-rampant rumors. The order was too late. Cortés's
each man had only one wife. Second, Zumárraga made a provocative ships, launched 8 July, were halfway up the Gulf of California.
mistake, saying the buildings were made of wood (instead of stone, as * 26 August: A copy of Marcos's relación was certifiecl in Mexico City
Marcos wrote). This would be a curious mistake if Zumárraga were by the minister provincial of Marcos's religious order and signed by
merely copying letters from Marcos. It fits better a scenario in which Marcos, virtually proving that Marcos was in Mexico City by that time.
Marcos has just arrived, Zumárraga has had a first chat with him, and * 2 September: Marcos's report was presented to officialdom, as we learn
then, in a flush of excitement, Zumárraga writes about what he'd just from wonderfully flowery language appended to the existing copies
heard. In support of this, Wagner ( 1934, 224) states that Zumárraga during a formal notarizing process: "The most reverend Father Fray
wrote hurriedly in order to send the letter "by a messenger then leav- Marcos de Niza, vice comisario in this part of the lndies of the Mar
ing" to catch a ship sailing from Veracruz. The bishop's letter notably Oceano ... appeared [on 2 September] before the very illustrious lord,
don Antonio de Mencloza, viceroy and governor for His Majesty in
this Nueva España, and president of the audiencia and royal chancery .
. . . Also present were the most excellent lords [such as] Francisco
however, with Marcos's comment that he wrote to his superior: "Send me Vázquez de Coronado, governor for His Majesty in the province of
orders what to do." Marcos wrote to his superior, but then after a day or so New Galicia" (translation by Flint and Flint 2005, 77). Mendoza
of downtime, Coronado ordered a precipitous departure. Marcos would get presumably orchestrated this event to emphasize publicly that it was
his orders in Mexico City, or on the way. his man who discovered the good lands to the north. On the same
• Depart Compostela with Coronado on the morning of 28 July in a hurry to date, Mendoza, still nervous that Cortés might make his own claims,
report to Mendoza. Travel to Mexico City: 513 miles in twenty-five days of had Marcos make an additional special affirmation "in the sight of
travel at 21 miles per day (possibly partly in wagons or on horses). Gocl" that "he had received no notice [relating to his discoveries] from
• Arrive in Mexico City around 22 August. In this reconstruction, the total Cortés, nor any account whatever of the country from him" (wording
elapsed time from Culiacán through Compostela to Mexico City is about from Wagner 1934, 218-19).
forty-two days at about 20 miles per day. Recall from chapter 3 that Cabeza * 4 September: Cortés made his own move in public, appearing before
de Vaca's largar party took about sixty-nine days, but they presumably the audiencia council with a petition (as described by Wagner). Rec-
stopped in Compostela for a longar time to parley with Guzmán. ognizing that the viceroy was solidifying his royal claim to the northern
lands, Cortés challenged Mendoza by enumerating his own alleged
Basad on this list, the return from Cíbola to Mexico City took ninety-one to discoveries in the Gulf of California.
ninety-three days, covering about 1,930miles atan average travel rate of about * 11 September: An answer of sorts carne to Cortés from an official
21 miles per day. This average rate is well below the fastest rates that Marcos known as thc fiscal, requesting Cortés to verify his signature on his two
himself reported, and it seems plausible for an experienced hiker fleeing for his lettcrs frorn 26 July ancl 6 Augusl 1539. Cortés cliclthis.
lite in the first two or three weeks and anxious to deliver his news. * 12 Scplcrnhcr: Mcndozu's appointcd govcrnor, Coronado, petitioned
1he ;1uclicncin 1l1:1I Co1 IC-ssi 101del he pmli ihi lcd Irom scndi ng a11y
204 • Chapter 6 Marcos Races Back to Mexico City • 205

expedition, by land or by sea, because it was rumored that Cortés a great sum of gold pesos in locating it. ... There have been a great
was planning such an expedition. Coronado's argument was that he many stipulations and responses from the one party to the other. ...
himself had been appointed by the king's representative to govern The marqués is going to Spain on the first ships that leave, [and] the
such northern lands. The audiencia took no action. viceroy is sending Francisco Vázquez de Coronado [north] to make
* 9 October: A transcript of these proceedings was made. Cortés an extensive report and provide information about the land .... Their
demanded removal of the case to the higher court of the Council of departure from here will be in a month and a half."
the Indies.
* 16 October: Mendoza wrote to the royal treasurer in Spain, describing The race between Cortés and Mendoza had clearly spilled into the
how he sent two Franciscans (Marcos and Onorato) "to reconnoiter public arena.
along the southern coast" (again showing the importance he attached
to the coastal configuration) and that they brought back "news of a
very excellent and great land, comprising many settlements." Men- Checking Up on Marcos: Autumn 1539
doza said his current plan was to organize "as many as 200 horsemen
by land and two ships by sea with as many as 100 arquebusiers, sorne By mid-October 1539 Mendoza was organizing his own proactive response
crossbow men, and sorne priests, to see how they will be received by to Marcos's discoveries and Cortés's provocations: a massive land expedi-
those natives." Here we see in embryo the plan for the giant Coronado tion to be lec!by his appointed governor of the Northwest, Coronado. His
expedition, which soon set out for Cíbola. (Copies of these letters, said confidence was shaken, however, by the lack of definitive inforrnation on
to be word for word, are translated by Flint and Flint in their 2005 the wealth of Cíbola. To make a successful conquest, he needed to find
book, pp. 91-92.) gold or other transportable wealth that could be sent back to Spain, first
* 18 October: A financia! officer in Mexico City, Rodrigo de Albor- to pay for the venture, and then to provide profit to the royal treasury.
noz, known to Mendoza, sent a summary of the situation to the royal Therefore, he arranged (as cited by Castañeda, book 1, chapter 7) that "the
treasurer in Spain, telling how a "new land" had been discovered to captain Melchior Díaz and Juan de Zaldívar would go forth from Culiacán
the north beyond the region where Guzmán had been slave raiding. with a dozen good men." Díaz was the capable mayor whom Cabeza de
Albornoz pictures it as "adjacent to the island the marquis del Valle Vaca's party had encountered in Culiacán-the man who had heard their
[Cortés] recently discovered [i.e., the península ofBaja California], to complaints against Guzmán and ended Guzmán's slave trafficking. Zaldí-
which he has sent three or four fleets." Albornoz verifies that Marcos var was second in command. As recorded by Mendoza, the Díaz/Zaldívar
returned with news about "seven very populous ciudades,'' with grand party set out from Culiacán on 17 November 1539 (Flint and Flint 2005,
buildings, and provided an "eyewitness account" of one of them. 234, 235).
That land was called Cíbola, and another land in that area was called In December Cortés made his own dramatic move. He left Mexico
Mara te [sic]. The letter refers also to "another very populous land altogether, taking his case directly to the king in Spain.
[Totonteac?- WKH] about which Marcos gave very marvelous news,
both in regard to its wealth and ... the harmony, excellent conduct,
and orderliness [of the people ], with respect to their building ... since Was Marcos a Fraud?: 1930-2000
they have houses made of lime and stone of two or three stories, and
at the doors and windows, a great quantity of turquoises" (Flint and Was Marcos really a "dunderhead," as charged by Sauer (1932, 30), or a
Flint 2005, 91-92). Albornoz went on to talk about animals, good mendacious "lying monk," as charged by Hallenbeck ([ 1949] 1987)? If
clothing, and the "intelligent" people and then concisely reported the we back off and look at the big picture, the charges are puzzling, because
gossip about the dispute over the new land: "The lord viceroy says it Marcos's reports were essentially true. Beautiful irrigated valleys did exist
pertains to him beca use he has discovered it, and the marqués [Cortés] in Sonora. 'I'hc coast did turn wcst al a latitude not far from Marcos's
alleges and declares that he discoverecl it much earlier [having] spent rcportcd val: ic, allowing for 1he crrors Iypica 1 of that time. Cíhola dul havc
206 • Chapter 6 Marcos Races Back to Mexico City • 207

well-dressed people living in multistory buildings of stonework with ladders Marcos reports." They said this phrase proved that Marcos himself was in
and turquoise in doorways. Compostela by 15 July. In other words, they assumed that Coronado could
But did gold exist in Cíbola? To repeat, Marcos's notarized report did learn Marcos's result only from face-to-face talks. As noted above, face-to-
not even mention it. face talks are ruled out, because Coronado wrote a letter from Compostela
So why the charges against Marcos? As we'll see in chapters 8 and 9, they on 15 July informing the king that the Indians had taken "Fray Marcos and
started with Coronado and his troops in 1540. These men blamed Marcos Estevan into the interior of the land" and treated them "most excellently."
for misleading them about the route and the riches. Mid-twentieth-century Nota word about the debacle and death of Estevan in Cíbola! So Marcos
historians accepted the sixteenth-century complaints and sought supporting was not in Compostela by 15 July, meaning that Coronado based his letter
evidence. As mentioned earlier, Sauer in 1932, Wagner in 1934, and Hal- only on messages Marcos sent back on his way north while everything was
lenbeck in 1949 concluded that Marcos did not have time to reach Cíbola going well.
and turned back near the modern-day border. Hallenbeck embellished the Let's test that idea. When Marcos was waiting at the last village in south-
charges by portraying Marcos as a doddering old man. He referred to "the eastern Arizona in early May, he would likely have sent back a message
aging friar" ([1949] l 987, 44 ), the "slow plodding pace of the old friar" (54), regarding his news of Cíbola and perhaps a prediction of his return in
his "rather leisurely" rate "beca use of his age" (55), and Estevan's "effort to August or September. Could that message have reached Coronado in
hasten the laggard friar along" (74). But ifMarcos was such an elderly slug- Compostela by 15 July? Yes. The time available, early May to 15 July, is
gard, one wonders why Bishop Zumárraga and Viceroy Mendoza would about seventy-two days. The trail distance from Marcos's early May position
have favored him. In fact, his age was not well known to Hallenbeck or in southern Arizona to Compostela is around 1,045 to 1,113 road miles,
anyone else. According to the Encyclopedia Britannica's estimate of Mar- based on Hallenbeck's compilations from severa} sources. This requires
cos's birth date, he was in his prime, about forty-four years old, and (unlike only about 15 miles per day for the message's rate of travel-a reasonable,
most of us) had spent a lifetime walking. even slow, rate for Native American messengers in those days. Such a mes-
The question boils clown to this: Why did these historians think Marcos sage would have described the good country of Sonora, with its prosperous
ran out of time? The key is their claim that Marcos arrived in Compostela villages and irrigated valleys-exactly what Coronado told the king!
around the end of June, which would not give him enough time to get back As mentioned earlier in this chapter, the Sauer/Wagner version of Mar-
from Cíbola. That date contrasts with our reconstruction, in which Marcos cos's return to Compostela by 1July was challenged on these grounds as early
arrived in Compostela around 26 July. Here is Sauer, writing in 1932: "The as 1940 by University of New Mexico historian Lansing Bloom. Bloom's
impossible part of the schedule is the return from Cíbola to Compostela suggestion seems obvious, in retrospect. In 1941, however, Sauer blasted it:
in one month. We are told that he arrived at the latter place at the end of "I see no basis for [Bloom's] interpretation that Coronado had only advance
June. That would mean covering 1,200 miles in a month" (28). lt would ·.e\. reports brought back by Indians, which seems sheer supposition." Hardly

,, '

imply a virtually impossible sustained average travel rate of 40 miles per supposition, I'd say, since Mendoza ordered Marcos to send such reports,
day for thirty days. and Coronado had already mentioned at least one early letter from Mar-
Wagner (1934) wrote himself into an inconsistency on this issue. His ' ,,.¡ cos. Bloom (1941) attempted an answer, but Sauer was the better-known
page 213 says: "No contemporary statement ... gives the date of arrival of authority, and Bloom's suggestion gradually sank into obscurity. In 1949
Fray Marcos at Culiacán on his return, or even at Compostela,'' but by page Hallenbeck reinforced Sauer, but with an even more astonishing reaction.
215 he speaks of "the almost certain date of his return to Compostela ... Hallenbeck (1949, 85) explicitly stated that Mendoza's instruction to send
confirmed by contemporary evidence." He puts Marcos in Compostela by back messages was "totally ignored in so far as there is any evidence" -in
1 July. By 1937, Sauer admitted that "a definite date of return has not been spite of Coronado's statement that Marcos had written to him.
established" (l 937b, 286). Most books today still say that Marcos did not have time to reach Cíbola.
Why, then, did Wagner and Sauer insist on the early date? Their sup- Summarizing the work since the l 930s, however, we can see a gradual
posed proof was the letter from Governor Coronado to the king, dated unraveling of Sauer's argument. In the l 930s Sauer claimed that Marcos
15 July 1539 in Compostela, about "the magnificence of the land that Fray turnccl back approximately at thc present intcrnational horder (nineteen
208 • Chapter 6 Marcos Races Back to Mexico Cíty • 209

to twenty-three days south of Cíbola). Wagner (1934, 216) allowed Marcos What Did Marcos Really Sayabout Gold in Cíbola?:
to get as far as the Gila River in southern Arizona (thirteen or fourteen Early Autumn 1539
days south ofCíbola). Hallenbeck ([1949] 1987, 53-54) agreed with these
estimates. Michel Nallino's research in the l 990s and my 1997 article Mendoza, for his part, surely didn't sit through conversations with Marcos
favored Marcos arriving within sight of Cíbola, as Marcos reported. The without pressing him: "Didn't any of the lndians say anything about gold
Flints (2005, 62), in an intermediate position, concluded that it "seems in Cíbola?" Presumably Marcos told Mendoza the truth-that in spite of
improbable that Marcos crossed the last despoblado to Cíbola." This allows the gold samples that he showed to the Indians along the way, he'd not
Marcos to have traversed at least a few days into the despoblado (perhaps been able to confirm gold use in Cíbola. Mendoza puta good public face
ten to thirteen days south of Cíbola). Richard Flint (2008, 35-37) con- on it during October and November, emphasizing that his man had found
cluded that it is "more plausible" that Marcos "turned around" as soon as the good new lands while, at the same time, he sent out the Díaz/Zaldívar
he heard the news about Estevan (three days from Cíbola, according to party to check the reports and organized his new expedition of conquest. He
Marcos). Flint added that Marcos's "exaggerations and outright lies were to may have been reassured that various independent informants in Sonora
lead to an extravagant expenditure of effort, Iife, and wealth" but suggested and southern Arizona reported a "kingdom of Totonteac" sorne days away
that Marcos's alleged lie about reaching Cíbola "might have seemed to from Cíbola, said to be even greater than Cíbola, with "the grandest in the
him only a technical untruth." Once we allow Marcos to have arrived world, [with J the most people and the greatest wealth" (translation by Flint
within three days of Cíbola, however, there is little evidence that would and Flint 2005, 72, 75).
convict Marcos of lying about the last three days. lt seems plausible that The usual story about Marcos, in contrast, is that he arrived in Mexico
he <lidspend those last days creeping through the back country to a point City proclaiming gold in Cíbola so enthusiastically that he convinced the
where he could get a distant view of one of the outlying Zuni pueblos and populace of Mexico City to form an army and rush off to Cíbola to acquire
its agricultura! fields. the treasure. Because of a curious incident, however, we have eyewitness
accounts of what people in the streets of Mexico City were really saying in
the early fall of 1539.

SIDEBAR: Lies, Conspiracies, and Solving Historical Mysteries

In my own involvement with historical incidents, 1served as a consultant to the
congressional House Select Committee on Assassinations from 1976to 1979, he returned to Mexico City in glory, why would he agree to return to the "scene
investigating photographic evidence on the Kennedy assassination. 1learned a ofthe crime" as a leader ofthe Coronado expedition? He'd knowthatthe commu-
useful lesson. lf someone claims to have solved a mystery by hypothesizing líes nity leaders in southern Arizona could have told any interviewer in the Coronado
and conspiracy, the most useful response is not to attack the hypothesis but to armythat "this priest never even reached our villages" or "this priestturned back
assume far a moment that it's true and then see if it would actually make sense only days befare we got to Cíbola."
from the point of view of the participants. Worse yet for this theory, the Díaz/Zaldívar party reached southern Arizona
That principie carne back to me as 1pursued the issues of Marcos and his in late 1539or early 1540,as we'll see in chapter 8, and spent weeks there sys-
journey. Marcos in 1538was well regarded in Mexico City and seems to have tematically interviewing local villagers. Yet they did not report a single lndian
been a candidate to become the heir to Zumárraga's position as bishop. With infarmant who said, "Marcos never arrived in our town" or "Marcos turned back
that in rnind, let's assume that he really did turn back at the border or sorne days just befare reaching Clbola." lndeed, Chronicler Pedro de Castañeda confirms
into the final despoblado and then decided to lie about the rest of the journey in that Marcos was the one who "found" a famous ruin, which is now known with
order to satisfy Mendoza's desire to claim the northern city. Why would he make fair certainty to be in southeastern Arizona, at least four or five days north of
up a story of traveling with many leaders of the southern Arizona villages, and the present border (about seventeen days south of Cíbolo). This alone disproves
probably sorne of his own servants from Mexico, all the way to Cíbola?And once Sauer's and Hallenbeck's suggestion that he turned back at the bordar.
210 • Chapter 6 Marcos Races Back to Mexíco Cíty • 211

A ship bound from Mexico to Europe stopped in Havana on 12 Novem- oro" (belts of gold). One wonders if the barber or the father-in-law simply
ber 1539. Mendoza had ordered it not to stop in Cuba because he wanted transmuted the turquoise into gold through optimism, faulty memory, or
to keep Hernando de Soto from finding out about Cíbola, (Soto was claim- blatant rumormongering.
ing rights to explore that area, since the king had granted him rights to "La As to the location of the wonderful new lands, the Havana witnesses
Florida," a land that was considered to extend west and north from modern were divided. One passenger said he heard that good land had been found
Florida for sorne undefined distance.) The ship's officers claimed onboard by Marcos "on the coast of the [Mar] del Sur," that is, the Pacific coast,
illnesses and insufficient drinking water, so they put in at Havana. Officials suggesting rumors about Mendoza's beliefs. Another said he'd heard that
there took an interest in the squabbles between Soto, Cortés, and Mendoza, the new province "was toward the middle of the land."
so they recorded testimony from seven passengers about the news that had In addition to these seven man-in-the-street witnesses, we have four
been circulating that fall in Mexico City. more accounts about what Marcos said, brought forward by Henry Wagner
Five out of seven of the witnesses said they had heard about a friar (only (1934, 222-23). The eighth is the letter we've mentioned, from Bishop
one knew his name) who had discovered good lands about 400 leagues Zumárraga, written on 23 August, probably justa day or so after Marcos
(1,000 to 1,240 miles) to the north. They all used a phrase similar to "a arrived in Mexico City. As mentioned above, it describes details of Cíbola,
wealthy and populous land," echoing Marcos's relación-implying that even their sleeping arrangements, yet says nothing about gold in Cíbola,
Marcos's phrases were circulating on the streets. Sorne of these reports The ninth account carne on 9 October, a month befare the Havana
correctly mentioned multistory stone buildings and intelligent people in testimony, when an obscure friar, Gerónimo Ximénez de San Esteban,
the new land. Strikingly, however, none of these five eyewitnesses offered wrote a letter, parts of which he said were based on direct conversation
any rumors of the friar talking about gold. with Marcos. This letter described Cíbola muchas Marcos had in his writ-
A sixth witness testified that "he had heard it said publicly that a friar ten report but emphasized the prosperity of the Cíbolans and mentioned
had recently arrived from a newly discovered land .... He says it is a land "silk clothing clown to their feet." Marcos talked only about cotton in his
wealthy in gold, silver, and other items of trade." The witness added that in relación. Ximénez wrote further, "The friar himself told me this, that he
this northern land were "grand towns" with buildings of stone, weights and saw a temple of their idols, the walls of which, inside and out, were covered
measures, and people riding on animals. Marcos reported nothing about with precious stones. I think he said they were emeralds." Since Marcos
Cíbolans mounted on animals, so the wording suggests not an eyewitness publicly denied entering the city of Cíbola, he would not have claimed
record of Marcos's words but rather a secondhand rumor. to describe a temple inside the city. Perhaps he was describing a smaller
The seventh and last shipboard witness gave an amusing thírdhand shrine he had seen in northern Sonora, which Ximénez conflated with
account, asserting that Marcos himself had talked about gold in Cíbola. the new northern lands of Cíbola. As seems common from other reports,
The witness said his son-in-law was a barber. While Marcos was being "erneralds" may have been confused with widely traded green and blue
shaved, he told the barber, who told the father-in-law, that after Marcos "turquoises," which may very well have been affixed to Sonaran shrines.
crossed a "mountain range" and a "river" he carne to a land with many The overall impression is that Ximénez was caught up in the speculation
walled ciudades and villas (towns). Here, he said, "there were silversmiths. about the North and carne away from his Marcos conversation with the idea
The women were accustomed to wear golden necklaces, and the men, that Cíbola was fabulously rich, which is what Marcos heard from Indians
belts of gold. There were hooded cloaks ... a meat market, a blacksmith's along the way who were correctly comparing mighty Cíbola to their own
forge, and weights and measures" (translations from Flint and Flint 2005, villages. Ximénez said he hesitated to write sorne of the details: "Of the
97-101). Who knows what Marcos actually said? Marcos's barber might richness ... I do not write because it is said to be so great that it <loesnot
not have been the first barber in history to embellish a tale. Zunis were seem possible."
never known, in prehistory or history, to wear necklaces and belts of gold. The tenth and eleventh reports are the two letters to the king's treasurer
There's an interesting connection, however. Marcos correctly wrote in his in Hispaniola, which we described earlier. One was written by Mendoza
relación about Cíbolan "cintas de turquesas" (belts or waistbands made himself on 16 October, ancl the other was written on 18 October by
with turquoises: sec Flint and Flint 2005, 70, 82) rathcr than "cintas ele the financia] officcr, Albornoz, giving infonuation about Marcos's new
212 • Chapter6 Marcos Races Back to Mexíco Cíty • 213

discoveries. Neither mentions gold. Mendoza spoke of "a very excellent [about] the lands ofCíbola, which neighbors the South Coast. [The idea
and great land" about which he wanted to get more information. Albornoz was]that with the ships and iron pieces, [Coronado) and his companions,
talked about a "new land" with good architecture and turquoises. One who already were in these lands, would be helped. That's why he sent
might suppose that if Marcos had come back stating that "Cíbola has gold the three ships.... I was not part of this [Coronado] army; I describe
ripe far plunder," the viceroy and the financia! officer might have at least it merely as I heard it. [Thanks to Michel Nallino for pointing out and
hinted to the king's treasurer about the good prospects. translating this passage.)
To summarize, we have eleven eyewitnesses giving evidence on what they
understood Marcos was saying about his discoveries. Eight out of eleven This supports the idea that Marcos's conversations with Mendoza
(including a few, such as Zumárraga, Mendoza, and even Ximénez, result- involved not just Marcos's land route to Cíbola but also the idea of sending
ing from personal conversations with Marcos) make no mentían of gold in ships to rendezvous with the land army at a port somewhere near Cíbola.
Cíbola. Only two reports, secondhand and thirdhand, mention gold, along Everyone from Cabeza de Vaca, Marcos, and Mendoza to Bernal Díaz as
with false information, such as Zunis wearing belts of the stuff and riding on late as 1570 still seemed convinced-falsely, as it turned out-that Cíbola
animals. The latter claim is so radically false that natives of northern regions was near the Pacific, "South Sea" coastline.
were unlikely ever to have said such a thing to Marcos, and Marcos had
enough exciting information that he had no motive to concoct imaginary
riders on animals. The data suggest merely an atmosphere of excited gossip Mendoza Plans His Expedition: Late 1539
in Mexico City-a city without radio, TV, telephones, or social media. In
a modern court of law, this body of evidence would hardly be adequate to Mendoza now felt he could not afford to wait during the severa! months
convict Marcos of returning to Mexico City and trumpeting false tales of it would take far Díaz and Zaldívar to get back with more detailed infor-
golden treasure in arder to motívate a grand expedition of conquest. mation from Cíbola, since Cortés's three ships had already sailed. Thus,
he went ahead with his plan far a giant, two-pronged expedition. One
half would involve armed Spaniards, their servants and support personnel,
More Clues about What Fray Marcos Told native allies from central Mexico, and livestock, traveling by land. The
Viceroy Mendoza: Autumn 1539 other half would involve ships sent up the Gulf of California to carry sup-
plies and seek a harbar where they could rendezvous with the land party.
An additional story hints at the kind of information Marcos brought back Mendoza's friend, the governor of the new frontier, Francisco Vázquez de
to Mendoza. Bernal Díaz, who wrote the famous eyewitness account of Coronado, would lead the land expedition. To lead the naval expedition,
Cortés's conquest ofTenochtitlan, produced a second, lesser-known half of Mendoza chose a captain named Hernando Alarcón.
his Hístory of the Conquest of Mexíco that gives a brief account about "how Mendoza chose not to organize the land army in Mexico City because
the Viceroy Don Antonio de Mendoza sent three ships in discovery of the it might alarm the region's Mexican population. Instead, he arranged far
South Coast, in search of Francisco Vázquez de Coronado." Díaz wrote the soldiers to dribble out of Mexico City around December 1539 and to
his account around 1570 and was not quite sure of the sequence of explo- rendezvous in Compostela, sorne 513 trail miles to the northwest (Hallen-
ration between Marcos and Coronado, but he adds details to Castañeda's beck [1949] l 987, 46), roughly halfway to the frontier in Culiacán.
account, saying that after Marcos had seen Cíbola, The famous Coronado expedition-or, to be more accurate, the Men-
doza/Coronado/Alarcón expedition-was now under way.
it appeared to the friar that he should go back to New Spain and give an
account to the viceroy, don Antonio de Mendoza, in order that [Men-
doza could] send ships along the south coast, with iron pieces and darts
and powder and crossbowsand ali sorts of weapons, and wine ancl olive
oil ami biscuits. 'l'his was because Marcos liad givcn Mcndoza a relación
To Cíbola by Land and Sea • 233

Río Yaqui (see map 9). In spite of the fact that we can recognize locales
~~ . -·~_}
from these and other Sonoran place-names that they recorded, no camp-

i( sites or Coronado artifacts have been located in Sonora as of this writing

Cfi~frúticak (mid-2013), This is surprising, because Coronado campsites may be better
-J preserved in rural northern Mexico than in the United States, where urban
sprawl and pot-hunting vandalism have ruined many ancient sites, As we'll
see, however, such sites have been found in the United States.
Carl Sauer in 1932 and Herbert Bolton in 1949, pursuing their studies
:Múfá(e <FJ>ute of the expedition, took early model cars on colorful trips into backcountry
of Sonora to locate traditional old trails that might mark Mexican parts of
Coronado Expedidor: the route. The country was not much different than in Coronado's day;
they bumped along dirt roads, fording streams and fixing flats. Comparing
o 1far{y 'Ioum
!] o :Moáem 'Ioum
Coronado-era and modern place-names, they estimated that the expedi-
tion traveled up the Arroyo Cedros across rugged mountains and then
o P.arfy 'Ioum. aná descended into the Río Yaqui valley near the modern town of Onavas,
:Moáem 'Iown where prehistoric village sites are known. Then the expedition continued
100 north, upstream along the Río Yaqui. At sorne point they left the Río Yaqui,
o 150 moving northwest to reach the Río Sonora probably near Batuco (see maps
9 and 12).
o 10 20 30 Coronado was bitter about this part of the trip. He wrote about it two or
• Leaá=s 4'3 three months later, on 3 August, shortly after reaching Cíbola.

~í;- We ali traveled cheerfully, [but it was] along a very difficult way,which
could not be traversedwithout preparing a new trail or irnprovingthe one
that was there. This troubled the men-at-arms nota little when they saw
that everything the friar [Marcos] had said turned out to be the opposite.
Among the things that he attested was that the route was excellent and
~ '\\ \ >tod>mCuB=ñ flat, with only one insignificant grade half a league long [something over
~ a mile].... [In the rnountains,] even ifthe trail is well repaired, it can't be
º"oOúí Cuftacán traversedwithout great danger of the horses falling. It wassobad that ... 1
left behind the greater part of the horses 1 had brought from Culiacán at
the Yaqui River, because they were unable to travel. ... 1left them with
four horsemen. The rest were left dead because of that escarpment, [and]
ten or twelve of our horses died from exhaustion. Because they had been
Soutli Sea
carrying heavy loads and eating little, they could not endure the labor.
Sorne of our Moors and lndians ran away for the same reason. (based
Map 12. Reconstructedrniddleportion of the Coronado expeditionroute. on translations from Bolton 1949, 101; Flint ancl Flint 2005, 254-55)
Localeswith still-recognizablenarnes,such as ArroyoCedros, Batuco, RíoYaqui,
Vallede Sonora,and Arizpe,are rnentíoned in the Coronado-eratexts,Map by Marcos, during his norlhcrn march, liad wrillcn about thc Aat-lyingtrails
Ron Bcckwith. lravcrsccl hy lus snurll party 11c:1r ll1e rn:1sl :111cl lurd prohcr] thc mounl ains
234 • Chapter 8 To Cíbola by Land and Sea • 235

only on his return. Coronado's expedition, however, had taken the inland The new garrison established there was named San Gerónimo de
route toward the north. Why, then, did they blame Marcos for describing Corazones. As for its detailed location, scholars for years placed it near
flat "routes"? This question leads to another question: How much direct the present town of Ures on the Río Sonora, but my own travels in the
contad occurred between Marcos, the troops, and the officers? The letter Río Sonora valley have led to a new suggestion that Corazones was at the
cited above begs the question: Didn't they talk along the way? Didn't Mar- modern Río Sonora crossroads village of Mazocahui (map 9), as described
cos get a chance to explain himself? Did they travel shoulder to shoulder as in the sidebar.
partners in adventure, or did they distrust each other and stay to themselves
in different contingents of the larger expedition?

lands to the west. Tofollowers of Sauer, Cabeza de Vaca's "gateway" is obviously

At Cabeza de Vaca's "Gateway," Corazones: May 1540 the Puerta del Sol (see fig. 7a).
The memoir by Juan Jaramillo mentions a different fe ature, however, that has
Recall from chapter 3 that the Cabeza de Vaca/Dorantes party, during their been brought into the discussion. Jaramillo sald that going north from Corazones
journey from the Houston area to Sonora, emphasized the native Sonoran contínued
community they called Corazones, calling it "the gateway [between the
inland and] many provinces on the South Sea." Coronado's advance party
Figure 7. Constrictions
arrived at Corazones on 26 May, and the following party arrived two or
along.the RíoSonora,
three weeks later. The various expedition memoirists clearly considered it discussed inthe text.
a key point along the route. They described itas a cluster of three villages (a) Portion of the 9-mile·
and placed it specifically on the Río Sonora drainage (see the sidebar, long Puerto del Sol gorga,
"Pinpointing Corazones from the Coronado Records"). just downstrearnfrom
Mazocahui (Corazones?).
(b) Few-hundred-yard-
long "small pass"
SIDESAR: Pinpointing Corazones from the Coronado Records upstream from Mazoca-
lt we .knewthe location ofOorazones, lt would solve many problems about Coro- hui, between Mazocahui
andthe Valle de Señora.
nado's route and also about Cabeza de Vaca's route. Most hístorians loeate Cora-
Photosby the author.
zones by citing the "gateway" dsscrlpfion of Cabeza de Vaca and then interpret
"gateway" notas a metaphor but as a physital realíty, namely, an impressíve
narrow gorga .onthe Río Sonora east of Ures Wg. 7al. Carl Sauer in l932 tathered
this idea in his study "The Road to Cíbola," saying that Cabeza de Vaca's gate-
way "is hardly a cryptic remark to anyone who knows this tamous river pass
between the coast tountry of Sonora and the VaUey of Sonora proper. lt is the
rnost significantQateway in the state. Through this canyon passed almost ali the
transport between the north and south of Sonora in the colonial period" 07).
Indeed, a notable canyon on the Río Sonora is about 9 road miles long (depending
on how one defines the endpoints) and reaches about 900 feet deep. lt's locally
callad the Puerta del Sol, the Gateway of the Sun, colorfully indicating that it
passes from the pastoral river valley at the east ond to the sunburned desert
342 • Chapter 11

taken up in 1544 and is described in numerous documents translated by

Richard Flint (2002). A judge from the royal audiencia of Mexico, Lorenzo
de Tejada, acted as a kind of special prosecutor and took testimony. By this CHAPTER TWELVE
point, Coronado seemed a figure of pathos, though he was only thirty-four
or thirty-five years old, according to his estimated birth date. In February
1545 he was called back to Mexico City and ordered to remain there under
a kind ofloose house arrest. His family carne with him. That March, Judge

Tejada wrote to the king that Coronado was more fit to be governed than to
govern, because he was not the same man who left on the great expedition: :\
"They say this change was caused by the fall from a horse." These years '&
had clearly been hard on Coronado, but one wonders: Was this an early :r ¡
example of the tendency for accused high officials to be conveniently ill
as they come to trial? As noted by Richard Flint (2002), the testimony of
army members at the trial seems full of convenient lapses of memory. In
February 1546 the judges essentially acquitted Coronado of the charges. He
then spent the late l 540s still restricted to Mexico City but serving on the
city council. In 1547 he testified on Mendoza's behalf during Mendoza's How can we sum up the adventures and misadventures of the colorful
legal review. By 1553, still in poor health, Coronado was allowed to move characters we've met: Hernán Cortés, Motezuma, Marina, Álvar Núñez
out of Mexico City to retire in a more healthful spot in the country, but he Cabeza de Vaca, Marcos de Niza, Estevan de Dorantes, Francisco Vázquez
lived only for another year. de Coronado, and Antonio Mendoza? For a start, let's wrap up sorne loose
Coronado had been acquitted in the 1546 trial, but that trial left it clear ends by summarizing what became of them.
that violence against Native Americans had occurred and that it should
be punished as a warning to future conquistadors. Capt. García López de
Cárdenas, the very man who saved Coronado's life during the battle at The End of a Generation
Cíbola, discovered the Grand Canyon, and lined up Puebloans at Albu-
querque to be burned at the stake for "revolting" after a Puebloan woman Many members of that generation died around the 1550s. Cortés died in
had been raped, took the fall. Still, his sentence was moderate. He was 1547, Andrés Dorantes in the 1550s, Mendoza (and possibly Marina) in
ordered to serve in the army for thirty more months, banished from the 1552, Ulloa in 1553 or shortly befare that, Coronado in 1554, Cabeza de
lndies for ten years, and required to paya fine of eight hundred gold ducats Vaca in 1556, and Marcos de Niza in 1558. It's as if history itself wanted to
to be used to finance religious and charitable works. sweep away the whole dramatic era of unbridled conquest and begin a new,
Most of the other expeditionaries who returned to Mexico slipped back more prosaic story of colonization, urbanization, and cultural assimilation.
into normal lives with varying degrees of obscurity. The Flints tracked clown The following obituarial postscripts provide selected details about these
historical records of many of them in Mexico City, Seville, and Culiacán. and other players in alphabetical order:
In Bolton's words, many of the officers, as after most wars, "spent the rest of
their lives begging the government for pensions or other rewards for their Alarcón, Hernando: Birth year uncertain. Surprisingly little is known
services" (1949, 353). about this discoverer and first explorer of the Colorado River. The year of
his death is also uncertain.

Alvarado, Pedro de: Born ca. 1485. Cortés's officer who slaughtered Aztecs
in Mcxico (;¡¡y i11 1120, ruining the chance of rapprochement between the
344 • Chapter 12 Aftennath • 34 5

Aztecs and Spain. Competed with Pizarro in the l 530s for the gold of Peru. Cortés, Hernan: Born ca. 1484. lnvader of Tenochtitlan, his reputation
Officially honored lateras the "conqueror" and governor of Honduras and was tarnished by the loss (or his own theft?) of mu ch of the reported Aztec
Guatemala. Died in 1541, crushed accidentally by a horse in Michoacán. gold and the destruction of the city as he recaptured it. Less widely known
His remains were later interred with official respect in 1568 in the cathedral are his explorations of the Gulf of California (or Sea of Cortés). Chafing
at Antigua, Guatemala. under rules set by Viceroy Mendoza, he returned to Spain in 1540 to seek
royal support for stronger claims to Mexico but died in the obscure village
Cabeza de Vaca, Álvar Núñez: Born ca. 1490. Survivor of the ill-fated of Castillejo de la Cuestra, near Seville, in the last weeks of 1547. His body
Narváez expedition to Florida. Returned to Spain in 1537 to request a grant was interred in Seville, then moved to Mexico, but it was subsequently
to explore Florida but instead was commissioned to develop a colony at moved severa! times and even hidden and temporarily lost, partly due to
Buenos Aires. Served as governor of a region in Argentina and Paraguay threats of desecration by political factions seeking revenge for the conquest.
about 1540 to 1544. After political wrangles with a competitor, he was The bones are reportedly now in the National lnstitute for Anthropology
arrested for poor administration and jailed in Spain in 1545. A tria! dragged and History in Mexico City. As recently as 1981, according to Wikipedia
on until 1551. Wrote a famous memoir of his journey across America, and other web-based sources, there was a politically motivated attempt to
published in various editions between 1542 and 1555. Released from jail destroy the bones.
but died in poverty and obscurity around 1556 (Encyclopedía Brítanníca;
Bolton 1949, 406-7). Díaz, Bernal: Born 1492. Served with Cortés during the conquest of Mex-
ico and, as a reward, became governor of the city now called Antigua in
Castañeda, Pedro de: Born ca. 1515. Wrote the most extensive mem- Guatemala. Author of a still-in-print eyewitness memoir of the conquest of
oir of the Coronado expedition. Settled in Culiacán after the expedition Tenochtitlan. Reportedly died in 1585 and is interred in the cathedral of
and wrote his account in the early l 560s in support of a proposed new Antigua. Ironically, his remains lie near those of Pedro de Alvarado, whom
expedition to the North. The new expedition did not materialize, but he he criticized as the destroyer of the possibility of rapprochement between
continued to believe that riches in the North had been lost by a timid, the Aztecs and the Spanish invaders.
premature end to the expedition. He apparently died in obscurity at sorne
unknown time after 1566 (Flint and Flint 2005, 378-79). Dorantes, Andrés: Birth date uncertain; probably ca. 1508. Survivor of the
ill-fated Narváez expedition to Florida. Turned clown Mendoza's request
Coronado, Francisco Vázquez de: Born ca. 1510, according to his biog- to lead an expedition north in 1537. Returned to Spain. He is said to have
rapher, Herbert Bolton. Explorer of North America from Sonora to Kansas married well, lived prosperously, and is thought to have died in the 1550s.
between 1540 and 1542. In spite of failing health, he was active in gov-
ernment affairs for the next decade. Charged with crimes against Native Estevan (aka Estevan de Dorantes, Estevan the Moor): Born in Africa,
Americans during the expedition but acquitted. Died in September 1554. probably Morocco, year uncertain. A servant of Andrés Dorantes, he sur-
He was buried in a church called Santo Domingo a few blocks north of the vived the trek with Cabeza de Vaca and was chosen to guide Marcos de Niza
main cathedral in Mexico City, and his wife, Beatriz, was later buried with to the northern lands. He reached Cíbola before Marcos but was killed by
him. Bolton reported that the location of the crypt was rediscovered by "a the Cíbolans in 1539 possibly because of reported transgressions against
Kansas country editor and a Mexico City building contractor" apparently Indian women on the way, and/or beca use of the Cíbolan desire to prevent
in the l 940s (1949, 405). However, according to investigations by Richard him from reporting information about Cíbola to additional Spaniards.
and Shirley Flint (prívate cornmunication, October 2011), the church was
moved twice since Coronado's death, and, according to the Flints' infor- Estrada, Beatriz de: Born 1524 or 1525. Wealthy daughter of the former
mation, bones from the crypts were also moved and reburied en masse, royal treasurer, married to Coronado in 1537 when she was about thirteen.
probably at least hundreds of feet from the original location, so that the She and Francisco supplied major funding for the Coronado expedition.
precise Coronado burial site is now unknown. Died 1590 (Shirlcy Cushing Flint 2013; and prívate comrnunicatiou).
346 • Chapier 12 Aftennath • 347

Jaramillo, Juan: Born 1510. Important chronicler and participant in the respected in Mexico City in her later life. It's unclear whether she died ata
Coronado expedition. Married and lived in Mexico City after the expe- young age, ca. 1528 or 1529, oras late as 1552 (Lanyon 1999, 220).
dition. Probably in the l 560s, he wrote one of the best accounts of the
Coronado expedition. Died atan uncertain time after 1578 (see Flint and Mendoza, Antonio: Born 1490 or 1491. Viceroy of Mexico, 1535-15 51.
Flint 2005, 508, 694, footnote 2). Appointed viceroy of Peru in 1551, went there, and died in Lima in July
1552. He was buried in the main cathedral of Lima, next to Francisco
Marcos de Niza: Born ca. 1495(?). Reportedly orphaned, grew up in Nice, Pizarra (Flint and Flint 2005, 89; Bolton 1949, 406).
France, and arrived as a Franciscan priest in Mexico City probably in 1535
or 1536. Remarkable for his connections with all three major conquests of Motezuma (Motezuma 11):Birth date is estimated to be between 1466 and
the Americas; he was involved with Cortés after the Aztec conquest, served 1470. Succeeded his un ele as emperor in 1502 at the height of the Mexican
in Peru and criticized Pizarro's Inca conquest, first reported the seven cities (Aztec) empire. Hesitated about how to respond to Cortés's march toward
ofCíbola in 1539, guiding the Coronado expedition there in 1540. Once Tenochtitlan. "Befriended" Cortés, but was assassinated in late June 1520
expected to become second bishop of Mexico, he returned from Cíbola either by his own disgruntled people or by Cortés's troops.
to Mexico City in disgrace in late 1540, blamed by his contemporaries for
the failure of the Coronado expedition. He disappeared from public life Pizarra, Francisco: Born in the 1470s. He was a distant cousin of Cortés.
but resurfaced in historical records now and then. Wagner (1934, 225) Poorly educated and illiterate, he arrived in the New World in 1509. After
reproduces a plaintive letter that Marcos wrote to Bishop Zumárraga in unsuccessful expeditions to Peru in the 1520s, he went back in 1530 and
1546. As for his location, Marcos says: "On account of having left the hot attacked the gold-rich Inca Empire. He captured the leader, Atahualpa, in
country my health has become very bad. On this account the padre pro- 1532, executed him in 1533, and was known for other outrages againstthe
vincial orders me to return to it at Zuchimilco" (presumably Xochimilco; Peruvians. He was assassinated by rival Spaniards in 1541 and buried with
see fig. 2). Marcos became a celebrity of Mexico City and was the first honor in the Lima cathedral.
European to write about Cíbola. He went on to say, "I, an orphan, have no
father and mother, friend nor refuge except your lordship." He petitioned Ulloa, Francisco de: Born ca. 1500(?), arrived in Mexico 1528. Naval
Bishop Zumárraga for "a donation of a little wine. I am in great need of it, captain for Cortés. Led the first party to reach the mouth of the Colorado
because my illness is a lack ofblood and natural heat" (Wagner 1934, 225). River, but <lidnot fully recognize its nature. Proved that Baja California
Zumárraga supplied the wine, but Marcos's health declined. By the is a península. Moved to Peru and died in 1553 or sometime befare that
1550she was reported by the early historian Mendieta to be living in Jalapa, (Flint and Flint 2005, 652). According to apocryphal web-based sources,
a warmer town near the coast, inland from Veracruz, "crippled by the hard- he was stabbed by a sailor.
ships through which he had passed" (Wagner 1934, 225). In his remarkable
life, he traveled the world from Nice to Mexico City, Peru, and Cíbola, but Zumárraga, Bishop Juan de: Born 1468. Bishop ofMexico City, 1528-48.
he died in obscurity. Wagner cites Mendieta's account: "Thinking that the Backed Marcos de Niza and the Coronado expedition. Known as a protec-
hour ofhis death was drawing near he was taken to Mexico [City-WKH] tor of the Indians, sponsor of schools for young native men and women,
to be interred with the ancient holy ones" (1934, 225). Another early source and sponsor of the first printing press in the New World. In 1546 the pope
says that Marcos died on 25 March 1558 (Wagner 1934, 225). decreed Mexico as a jurisdiction independent from Seville and appointed
Zumárraga as the first archbishop of Mexico, but Zumárraga died in 1548,
Marina (aka Malinche): Born ca. 1500(?). Translator, confidante, and weeks befare the appointment could take effect (Bolton 1949, 407; Cath-
lover of Cortés during and after the conquest of Tenochtitlan. Mother of olic Encyclopedia online edition, 2012).
Cortés's first son, Martín, the first known mestizo. Married in 1524 (at the
instigation of Cortés) to a soldier, Juan Jaramillo (not the same man as the These capsule biographies remind us that, to paraphrase Shakespeare,
later Coronado chronicler). She was well liked by Cortés's troops ancl well we're ali players who strut and fret our hour on the stage and then are heard
348 • Chapter 12 Aftermath • 349

no more. It <loesnot take much cynicism to make a case that respect in later as Casas Grandes in Chihuahua. Chapter 11 describes the expedition of
life <lidnot correlate with these individuals' actual contributions to the "big Francisco Leyva and Gutiérrez de Jumana, which reached Quivira in 1593
picture" of history. Those who gave us beautiful literary accounts of that or 1594, only to lose most of its members in conflict with the Quivirans,
era or otherwise tried to serve longer-term ideals-Bernal Díaz, Cabeza de thus leaving artifacts in Kansas. The fact that expeditions as much as fifty
Vaca, Castañeda, and Marcos de Niza-tended to die in obscurity. Those years later could easily find sites that had been visited by earlier Spaniards
who acquired the most wealth and transferred it to their own ethnic group testifies that the Native American trail networks persisted and knowledge-
(Spain)-Cortés, Alvarado, and Pizarro-died as heroes within their flawed able guides could be found.
cultural framework and were buried in elaborate crypts. During those later decades, however, the Europeans' emphasis shifted
from the ancient Cíbola trade route through Sonora and Arizona to an
eastern route through Chihuahua and north along the Rio Grande into
Were Riches Missed in the Northern Lands?: central New Mexico. Around 1598 Juan de Oñate followed that route with
The Viewfrom the 1550s a group of colonists, claiming what is now northern New Mexico for Spain
and establishing the province of Santa Fe (originally Santa Fé, meaning
One of the fascinations of the Coronado expedition is that sorne partici- "Sacred Faith"). Here, recently arrived official Pedro de Peralta, about
pants returned to Mexico still convinced that treasures lay north or east twenty-six years old, founded the town Santa Fe as the new capital of the
ofTiguex or even beyond Quivira (map 14). Pedro de Castañeda, writing province in 1610. That city remains the earliest continuously inhabited
sorne twenty years later, opened his memoir with a poignant prologue: state capital in the United States.

When we have something precious within our grasp, we don't value it.
However, when we've lost it and need its benefits, then we have great What Can Be Learned?: The Viewfrom the
pain in our hearts, and imagine other outcomes, searching far wayswe Twenty-FirstCentury
might recover it. It seems to me this happened to ali ar most of those
who went on the expedition. Although they didn't find the wealth of Many ruminations follow from our still-emerging knowledge of American
which they had been told, they did find the beginning of a good land to exploration in the l 500s. One thought, perhaps encouraging, is that even
settle and they had the wherewithal to search far riches that lay within when a given generation is largely forgotten, historians can enter the pie-
their grasp. Today, their hearts weep because they lost the opportunity ture centuries later, identify episodes of long-term interest, and recover
of a lifetime. Sorne of them would today be happy to go back, in arder their story. Thanks to many dozens of sleuths-amateur, professional, and
to explore farther, so as to recover what was lost. (abridged and adapted in-between-knowledge of the Coronado era has expanded from near zero
from the translation by Flint and Flint 2005, 385-86) in 1800 to discoveries of actual campsites and routes today.
That process allows practica! application of the observation by George
In Castañeda's view, they would have succeeded if only they had looked Santayana (who, interestingly, was Spanish). Those who cannot remember
harder for the riches of what he called "Greater India" and East Asia. Flint the past, he said, are condemned to repeat it. To take one example from the
and Flint comment that Castañeda spent his later years living a difficult Spanish story, we see repeated later examples that sincere patriotism and/
life in hardscrabble, frontier Culiacán, yearning for "the prosperous life or sincere religious zeal is not necessarily correlated with good behavior
that might have been" (2005, 379). or a better life among human beings. Belief in nationalistic, religious, or
Other wildcat expeditions took up his challenge and headed north in ideological exceptionalism, once out of control, easily morphs into excuses
the later l 500s. They left poor documentation but may have left their own for oppression, murder, warfare, and mass misery, with disruption of fami-
Spanish artifacts along the way. Chapter 5 describes the 1556 expedition by lies and societies. Examples abound throughout history, whether Spanish
Ibarra, Obregón, and their troops, who followed part of Coronado's route operations in Mexico and New Mexico or the more recent examples: Nazi
through Sonora and apparently reached the impressive ruins now known obsession with racial cxccptionalism; Soviet Cornmunist Marxism as thc
350 • Chapter 12

one true exceptionalist economic theory; fundamentalist views of Islam

' Aftennath • 351

priests regarding their ideas about deities and human existence (Ber-
and Christianity as exceptionalist religions. In our era, the negative conse- na! Díaz and others, chapters 1 and 2).
quences of ethnoideological exceptionalism are dismissed by apologists as * Late prehistoric life in the southwestern United States and border-
"collateral damage." We humans, it seems, need to be constantly on guard: lands: Eyewitness descriptions of village life and social practices in
relígio-political theories, ideologies, and economic models have not been west Texas, southern New Mexico, southeastern Arizona, and Sonora
adequate to replace empírica! knowledge and practica! problem solving. (Cabeza de Vaca, chapter 3).
The subject, of course, is a touchy one. * Prehistoric personal life: Multiple, consistent eyewitness descriptions
A less-touchy application utilizes the eyewitness accounts of what I call of Sonaran villages, including religious sacrifices, deerskin and cotton
"the last <layof prehistory" to clarify prehistoric life, and perhaps even pre- clothing, buffalo hides from Cíbola, jewelry, tattooing, sexual behav-
historie influences on our own time. I'm struck by the disconnect between ior, diets, irrigation, and names of geographic features and villages
contemporary archaeologists' literature on protohistoric sites from the l 400s (in sorne cases recognizable today)-not to mention later-confirmed
to the l 500s and the eyewitnesses' down-to-earth accounts of how those rumors about rudimentary metal resources in the Sierra Madre (Las
people actually lived. I'm happy to count myself asan academic scholar, but Casas, chapter 3; Marcos de Niza, chapters 5, 6; Castañeda, chapter 9).
I sense that our generation has wandered into a detached land of academic * Records of practica! culture: Indications that the well-dressed people
semantic games, far removed from actual ancient life as perceived by those with flat-roofed "perrnanent" houses whom the Spaniards saw along
who lived it. We twenty-first-century scholars seem to feel that we can't the Río Sonora were copying styles of dress and housing that they
experience reality without transforming it into barely testable "models," the- had seen 500 miles away in the grander northern pueblos (chapter 3).
oretical constructs, and fancy language. A respected book, which I quoted * Records of religion/science/"natural philosophy": A report that natives
earlier, concludes with paragraphs containing the following prose (here I of the Río Sonora valley scheduled certain annual ceremonies accord-
beg the reader's permission to criticize the paradigm, not the person). ing to calendric observations by priests in Cíbola/Zuni. Also, firsthand
and secondhand accounts of Sonaran village political and religious
Freedom, agency, and equality were transformed or "corrupted" into the practices: leaders addressing the people from platforms, small war
inequalities of subalterity and "ignorancia invenciple." But this transfor- temples, and animal sacrifices (Castañeda, chapters 8 and 9; Las
mation was not merely an objectification of the other that enabled the Casas, chapter 3).
self to protect itself from a threatening difference. In other words, the * Similar detailed descriptions of lifeways in the multistory pueblos
posited recalcitrant alterity of the Nahua by Bautista ... [etc., etc.) of New Mexico in the l 500s, consistent with accounts by American
ethnographers in the 1800s (chapters 5, 9, 10).
This opaque language reflects a choice of words and style of writing now * Similar, less-detailed descriptions of village lífe along the Colorado
popular in sorne circles. But do the word choices expand the short-term or River and in central Kansas (chapters 10, 11).
long-term human knowledge or merely obfuscate it? * Travel and trade networks: Consistent, independent eyewitness reports
Perhaps we can learn how to transform potsherds and statistics into of Native American journeys and travel times, including weeks-old 1

plainer language that communicates our findings about our forerunners, news transmitted over distances of 300 to 500 miles, including the
and helps us all understand our unexamined underpinnings. Here's my Cíbola to Sonora and Cíbola to Yuma trade networks (Marcos de

own chapter-by-chapter review of the historical eyewitness information Niza, chapter 5; Coronado, chapter 9; Alarcón, chapter 10).
we've gained about the last days of prehistory in North America. * Regional economic frameworks: First-person interviews about trade

mutes and dealings in macaw feathers, turquoise, buffalo products,

* Aztec culture: Roughly consistent, if sketchy, eyewitness descriptions, cotton, and personal labor over regions covering 300 to 500 miles 1

from both Mexican and Spanish sides, about basic Aztec culture, reli- in Sonora, Arizona, and New Mexico, and trade-based dispersa! of
gion, language, technology. We learn, for example, of Motezuma's copper bells over distances more than l ,000 miles, as confirmed by
view of the world, and of interviews between the Mexican ancl Spanish archaeological eviclence (Cabeza de Vaca, chapter 3; Marcos de Niza,

352 • Chapter 12 Aftermath • 353

chapter 5; Castañeda, Díaz!Zaldívar, and others, chapter 9; Alarcón, divisions, with odd symbols in each division. The concept was that the stick
chapter 1O). recorded historical events, and each symbol was a reminder to the original
* Clarification of earlier prehistoric events (ca. 1300-1400): Eyewitness carver about a certain historical event. These meanings and stories were
reports that the ruin called Chichilticale in southeastern Arizona was then passed on to the next-generation tribal guardian of the stick, who
built by "civilized [and] warlike foreigners who had come from far added new symbols (sometimes combining severa! uneventful years) and
away [and] who split off from Cíbola" (Castañeda, chapter 5). Archae- passed it on. By looking at the esoteric symbols, the keeper of the stick used
ologists (traditionally separated into different university departments itas a "quasi-written record," a memory aid to remember the events and
from historians) questioned who built these structures until Michael recount the history of the community. One symbol might representa great
Woodson (1995) confirmed that a nearby example of these ruins had earthquake, another an attack by nomadic Apaches. It was not quite written
been built by northern people from the Four Corners area -just as language, but it was a first step, a fascinating missing link in the develop-
reported four hundred years earlier by natives of southern Arizona, ment of writing. Another step is seen in Mexican/Aztec "books," which
talking to Castañeda (Hartmann and Flint 2001 ). recorded important events in pages of pictorial glyphs bound together. One
* Clarification of human linguistic evolution: Eyewitness comments example, discussed by Flint and Flint (2005, 169), recorded Aztec/Mexican
that indigenous people from one region would urge travelers to stay events such as early usage of the Spaniards' metal coins (1542), discovery
behind with them so as to become interpreters for future visitors. This of a cave (1543), and a year-long pestilence (1545).
helps to explain why prehistoric and early historie peoples could travel These American stories resemble primordial European and Asian sto-
widely and still communicate (Castañeda, chapter 11). ries such as those in the Old Testament-plagues, earthquakes, invasions,
Hoods, national captivities, holy commandments. We see all the usual
lntriguingly, all these eyewitness observations were made during a period human foibles: hostilities, negotiations, trade, king making, empire build-
that archaeologists identify as a cultural nadir in Arizona and northern ing, complaints about alleged evils of Sodom, tribal/nationalistic excep-
Sonora, citing low population and virtual absence of painted ceramics. If this tionalism, and great urban centers regarded with envy and contempt by
was a prehistoric dark age, then how much richer may have been geographic provincials (think Babylon or Cíbola, Rome or Tenochtitlan). Among the
awareness and culture during the l 200s and l 300s,when lndians as far north resemblances are refugee migrations (from Egypt, from Aztlán), promised
as Arizona lived in populous towns with irrigation canals, beautiful ceramic lancls (Zion, Mexico), mighty kings (Solomon, Motezuma), animal or
wares, and ball courts derived from the game played in southern Mexico? human sacrifices (Abraham, pyramidal temples), stupendous gods (Quet-
A beguiling connection is that the whole period that we discuss in Amer- zalcoatl, Baal, Yahweh), famed banquets (Belshazzar, Corazones), urban
ica (say, 1100-1550) resembles not just the biblical epoch, as discussed wonders (eponymous Ur, Babylon, Cíbola), and great, tragic love affairs
above, but the even earlier period in the "Fertile Crescent," four to six (David ancl Bathsheba, Antony and Cleopatra, Cortés and Marina).
thousand years ago, when the roots of Mediterranean/European/American Traces of these stories remain buried in Native American oral traditions.
"Atlantic civilization" were established on landscapes from present-day For better or worse, our "American Old Testament" began to be trans-
Egypt to lran. The early Asian roots are hard to reconstruct, but the same formed into written words by the fascinating, tarnished generation from
processes were happening in North America only four to nine hundred Cortés to Coronado. The conquest of Mexico by Cortés, the competition
years ago on the soil beneath our feet. From Mexico City to New Mexico, over northern lands, and the final march to Cíbola and Quivira is, like the
the 11OOsto l 500s were a period when scattered provinces had irrigated Old Testament, a tale of extraordinary deeds by fallible human beings.
towns, impressive ceremonial centers, multistory stone structures (in a few It proves that we humans-whether primarily aggressive or primarily
cases), early attempts at written records, and stories of drama and courage philosophic-can carry out amazing travels, adventures, discoveries, and
to match those of the Egyptians, Sumerians, Israelites, and Greeks. observations, even when we are motivated by oppressive social principies
In the desert region of Arizona and Sonora, where 1live, Native Ameri- or fallacious views of reality.
cans of the last four hundred years created "calendar sticks" -wooden rods We can all learn from these adventures. All of us are children of his-
three to five feet long, an inch or two wide, divicled into roughly inch-sizecl tory, captives of what wc've absorbed from our cultures. l low casily wc
354 • Chapter 12

convince ourselves to invade a foreign land in search of mythical gold, souls

to be saved, lebensraum, revenge, or (less explicitly) a chance to control
resources or spread our own socioeconomic system. The conquistadors
repeatedly expressed shock that the Aztecs would capture enemies and
Additional Reading and References
sacrifice them to the Aztec gods to ensure the continuation of Earth, but
the Spaniards went about their own righteous business of destroying towns
and casting "rebellious" inhabitants into fire or slavery if they resisted the
requerimiento's offer of rights under the Spanish medieval geopolitical
framework. A bit of credit can be salvaged by the fact that scholars back
in Europe debated (ineffectually?) whether the natives of the New World
might be human beings like themselves.
Four centuries later, in spite of Santayana's admonition, we are still
shocked-shocked!-by modern examples of cultural collision. Few of us Adorno, Rolena, and Patrick Charles Pautz. 1999. Álvar Núñez Cabeza de Vaca: His
humans, from southeast Asían prelates to Atlantic nation politicians, seem Account, His Life, and the Expedition of Pánfilo de Narváez. 3 vols. Lincoln: Uni-
to understand why the rest of the world isn't enthralled by our own won- versityofNebraska Press.
derful ideas about how to organize society, whether based on Islamic Sharia Aiton, Arthur Scott. 1927.Antonio Mendoza: First Viceroy to New Spain. Durham, NC:
Duke University Press.
law or laissez-faire marketing schemes. History suggests that a few hundred Anderson, Arthur J. O., and Charles E. Dibble, trans. 1978. The War of Conquest: How
years later, our descendants may not care about our burning issues. The It Was Waged Here in Mexico (as Given to Fr. Bemardino de Sahagún). Salt Lake
forgotten concept that we can't seem to apply in ordinary life is that Horno City: University of Utah Press.
sapiens finished spreading around the planet only within the last five to ten Bancroft, Hubert H. 1899. History of Arizona and New Mexico, 1530-1888. San Fran-
cisco: History Company.
centuries, that a century is justa blink of the eye in terms of the collision
Bandelier, Adolph. ( 1886) 1981.The Discovery ofNew Mexico by the Franciscan Monk,
of cultures, and that we humans are ali in this together. Friar Marcos de Niza in 1539. Translated and edited by Madeleine Turrell Rodack.
1grew up in the l 950s Cold War era, when we and the Russians threat- Tucson: Universityof Arizona Press.
ened each other with mutual annihilation over ideological issues. Forty --. (1890) 1976. Investigations among the Indians of the Southwestem United
years later, since the l 990s, l've been collaborating with Russian friends on States, Carried on Mainly in the Years from 1880 to 1885. Papers of the Archaeolog-
ical lnstitute of America, American Series III. Cambridge: Cambridge University
scientific projects about the ongoing exploration of our shared solar system.
Press. Reprint, Milwood, NY:Kraus Reprint Co.
1 have come to admire the Russians' thoughtful and dark sense of humor Baptiste, Víctor N. 1990. Bartolomé de Las Casas and Thomas More's "Utopía." Culver
with which they address the most serious issues. City, CA: Labyrinthos.
They asked me: "What is the difference between a realist anda dreamer?" Barrett, Elinore M. 1997. "The Geography of Middle Río Grande Pueblos Revealed
The answer? "The realist thinks that aliens will arrive in their flying by Spanish Explorers, 1540-1598." In The Coronado Expedition to Tierra Nueva,
edited by Richard Flint and Shirley Cushing Flint, 234-48. Niwot: UniversityPress
saucers and hover over our capitals and offer to share their knowledge
of Colorado.
and technology with us and solve ali our problems. This, mind you, is the Bartlett, Katharine, and Harold S. Coitan. 1940. "A Note on the Marcos de Niza
realist. The dreamer thinks that maybe we can get our act together and lnscription near Phoenix, Arizona." Plateau 12(4): 53-59.
solve our problems and do it ourselves." Blakeslee, Donald J. 2011. "Ysopete'sTantrum, or New Light on the Coronado Expe-
dition's Route to the Jimmy Owens Site." In The Latest Word from 1540: People,
Places, and Portrayals of the Coronado Expedition, edited by Richard Flint and
Shirley Cushing Flint, 398-422. Albuquerque: University ofNew Mexico Press.
Blakeslee, Donald J., and Jay C. Blaine. 2003. "The Jimmy Owens Site: New Per-
spectives on the Coronado Expedition." In The Coronado Expedition: From the
Distance of 460 Years, edited by Richard Flint and Shirley Cushing Flint, 203-18.
Albuquerque: University of New Mexico Prcss.

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